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Faith and Vocational Crisis 
In the Experience of Episcopal Clergy 

The Reverend James C. Knudson, M.Div. 

A ProjectATiesis submitted 

to the Faculty of the 

Episcopal Divinity School 

in Partial Fulfillment 

of the Requirements 

for the Degree 


March 27, 1992 

iZjU^S^ (Supervisor) ///j#9 

e Rev. Professor George I. Hunter 

<J> X/W»*£<^ (Reader) *//tfn 

James W. Dunkly, Ph.D., Director of Libraries 

^jfftCoAA j (J4*,^ lt-%U+Z. (Reader) v/ Mf U 
Marie Augusta Neal, S.N.D., Ph.D. 
Professor Emeritus, Emmanuel College 


I dedicate this to my wife, Esther, who has been my partner and support 
through bad times as well as good times. In the trials that eventuated in this study, she 
has had enough faith for both of us. 

I began this study out of my own experience of being needy, and after many 
conversations which confirmed my suspicions that I had not been all alone — that in fact 
many clergy have experienced crisis and have been needy of care. 

My research method included mailing out a survey to some two hundred clergy 
— graduates of the Episcopal Divinity School and its precursor institutions, the Episco- 
pal Theological School and the Philadelphia Divinity School, in a series of classes over 
a thirty- year span. The sixty-some responses which came back put me in touch with 
many wonderful, caring, genuine clergy, most of whom have experienced crisis in their 
lives and have grown through it. I marvel at God's grace, I thank God for these great 
people — God's ministers truly, and for this project which has occasioned my coming to 
know them in this way. 

As well, then, I dedicate this Thesis as a tribute to them all, my brothers and 
sisters in the ministry of Christ. 

Dedication Page 1 

Introduction Page 3 

Chapter 1. Mid-Life Crisis in the Lives of Clergy Page 5 

Jung's contribution to understanding mid- life — 9 
The mid-life transition — 16 
Professional life — 26 
Inner conversion — 31 

Chapter 2. Stories and Learnings Page 39 

Stories — 41 

Reflections on help for clergy in crisis — 59 

Chapter 3. Formation for Ministry Page 62 

Job placement: first three-to-five years after ordination — 62 
Formation for life-care — 69 
Continuing life-care — 85 

Chapter 4. Conclusions Page 88 

Clergy in Mid-Life — 88 
Sabbatical Leave — 93 
Spiritual Companionship — 96 
Formation — 97 

Epilogue. Hope for the Future Page 99 

Bibliography Page 103 

Appendix A. The Survey Questionnaire. Page 104 

Appendix B. A Bibliography of Recent Studies in Practical Theology Page 114 

page 3 


This project-thesis arises out of my personal experience in parish ministry, and 

from many conversations with others, both clergy and laity who care about clergy. 

The truism that clergy are human includes the fact that clergy are just as prone to 
suffer the kind of life-crisis that other people suffer as they face the change of perspec- 
tive of the second half of life. With clergy, however, this crisis has some dimensions 
that are not as common with other people. This will be described in these pages. 

The point of view from which this thesis proceeds is that life-crisis will not be 
prevented by excellent formation early in a person's ordained life, but that good early 
formation could mitigate some of the worst effects in later years. This will be treated at 
some length in this thesis. 

Secondly, the Church has a role to play in taking care of its ministers — caring 
for the care-givers. Appropriate care for the clergy at all stages of their active lives is the 
Church's duty because clergy are brothers and sisters in the human family, and sisters 
and brothers in Christ as well. Appropriate care also serves the Church's interests of 
effective ministry. Exploring what 'appropriate care' might mean will be discussed at 
some length in this thesis. 

The method of procedure of this thesis will be to present a picture of what is in- 
volved in the mid-life crisis, with particular attention to the special ways clergy may be 
affected. This will be Chapter 1. In doing my research I sent out a survey questionnaire 
to over two hundred clergy, graduates of the Episcopal Divinity School and its precur- 
sors, the Episcopal Theological School and the Philadelphia Divinity School, from se- 
lected classes over a span of thirty years. More than sixty responses (better than 30%) 
were received back. 1 From these responses we will look at stories of crisis in 

*To be precise, 210 questionnaires were sent out. The survey was sent to all the degree 
recipients who are now priests of the Episcopal Church in the USA, in the classes of 1962, 
1967, 1972, 1977, 1982, and 1987 — thus, at five-year intervals over the thirty-year span. 
Working up the database involved consulting between the EDS Alumni/ae list, the Episco- 
pal Church Annual, and the Clerical Directory. It was my intention to include everyone in 
the survey who belongs in the category "degree recipients who are now priests of the 

page 4 

Chapter 2, and what respondents say about formation for ministry in Chapter 3. My 
conclusions form Chapter 4. A few respondents gave some account of where they are 
now, spiritually: what they say about life after the crisis forms the Epilogue. The sur- 
vey questionnaire, followed by the tabulation of responses to it, forms Appendix A; 
and a bibliography of recent publications of practical theology in congregational studies 
is included as Appendix B. 

Episcopal Church in the USA." In some of the cases where postal addresses vary among 
these three sources, I may have guessed wrong: seven were returned by the Postal Service 
("Forwarding Order Expired" or otherwise undeliverable). One was returned as "deceas- 
ed." I received 68 (or 33.66%) responses to Part I of the survey; there were 20 narrative 
responses, mostly in direct response to Part II or the survey, but a few less specific letters. 
Thus, the responses on which this thesis draws most heavily represent some 9.9% of the 

page 5 

Mid-life Crisis in the Lives of Clergy 

In this chapter my aim is to describe the particular ways the mid-life crisis af- 
fects clergy. Some stories of crisis from respondents to my survey questionnaire — and 
my own — are set out in Chapter 2, and we will see that they describe what is most eas- 
ily accessible: events, actions and people as they form the story of a tough time in life. I 
believe that those events have an inner dimension, that the soul (or psyche) is not pas- 
sive but itself plays a part in the story. We carry ourselves into every part of our life- 
story, and we initiate and respond to events out of the inner life of our souls, even 
when we are not very aware of what is going on in our inner world. So my attention in 
this chapter is on the inner dimension of the mid- life transition — why the transition 
comes about, why it can become a crisis, and how it feels for clergy in particular. Thus 
I begin, not with the stories of what happened, but with that inner dimension where we 
construct meaning to account for our experience. 

In the questionnaire I asked the question of meaning. "The most sensitive part 
of [a crisis experience] is what it comes to mean as a part of your life story. In fact, it 
is not fully human and personal until we can attribute meaning to it." The question of 
meaning was purposely left open-ended, because it is only fair that respondents be left 
free to honor their experience and their reflection on it in whatever terms they have ap- 
propriated. Each respondent should be free to say what he or she calls a 'crisis.' The 
experience has its particular dimensions and circumstances — its own story — for each 
individual. Further, reflection on the raw data will be flavored by the framework and 
terminology each has at his or her disposal. For some, this might be in terms of addic- 
tion and recovery; for others it might be in terms of psychology or life-stage research. 
For others yet, another meaning system may provide the terms and frame by which to 
make sense of one's raw experience. 

The topic and perspective of this thesis, however, is the mid- life crisis as it is 
played out in the lives of clergy. My experience leads me to think that the mid-life crisis 

page 6 

is very specially affecting for clergy, and I will say why I think that Some respondents 
to the survey rightly understood my intent and stated that they had not experienced a 
mid-life crisis. Some others briefly indicated crises that, while undoubtedly troubling 
and painful, do not seem to fall within the material of this thesis. I salute them all and 
pray for their well-being and perseverance in ministry. 

Of course, the point of view from which I proceed is influenced by my tem- 
perament Keirsey and Bates, in their little book, Please Understand Me, } are as- 
tonishingly accurate in describing the kind of temperament I am blessed/cursed with: 
the NF ('intuitive feeler') personality. In describing four basic temperaments, Keirsey 
and Bates focus on the perceiving and judging functions of the personality as Jung hy- 
pothesized and Myers-Briggs went on to identify in their 'inventory.' They take these 
functions as determinative, whether the person is introverted or extraverted. The NF 
temperament, they say, "experiences life as a drama, each encounter pregnant with sig- 
nificance," "works toward a vision of perfection," will often "romanticize [his or her] 
experiences, [his or her life], and the experiences and lives of others," and "enjoys 
bringing out the best in others." Only a small minority (12%) of the general populace 
has this kind of temperament, so some of this essay may seem overly dramatic to the 
reader, making too much of what might be taken as 'ordinary' by many people. 

Still, according to Keirsey and Bates, clergy are much more likely to have this 
kind of temperament than is the general populace. If I take it upon myself to describe 
the mid-life crisis as I see it, I may be speaking somewhat for others as well. The effort 
will not be wasted if those who do not experience life in such dramatic ways can see 
how some of us do experience it. For example, one respondent to my survey, who is a 
bishop, stated that "for whatever reason, I have not gone through a vocational crisis, or 
a mid-life 'dark wood' experience." I do not suppose that, because he has not had an 
experience similar to mine, he is lacking in compassion toward his clergy; but it may be 
helpful to him and to others to know how some of us see our lives. The same respon- 
dent later says, "Clergy — being human — can find a crisis anywhere. Life is a crisis! 
They need help identifying the crisis — naming it." If this study goes any distance in 

iKeirsey and Bates (1978), pp. 57-66. 

page 7 

helping clergy name what is happening in their lives, it will have been worthwhile. 

My experience urges me to insist on the reality of the midlife transition as a 
change of focus, and to the crisis nature of this transition for some people. Clergy, in 
common with other people, can feel this transition as a crisis. It is not necessarily a 
crisis of one's sanity, nor is it necessarily morally reprehensible or a weakness of faith. 
To our fellow clergy it should invite compassion and perhaps some manner of interven- 
tion, gentle but firm and purposeful. To bishops and other diocesan judicatory officials 
it calls for compassion — first — and for some appropriate intervention. Some sugges- 
tions will be proposed later for the shape this intervention might take. 

William James found that some people, whom he called the "healthy-minded," 
go through life smoothly and without noticeable crisis. 2 Generally, I suppose clergy 
would like to place themselves among these "healthy-minded" — in spite of Jesus' re- 
peated call to conversion and his explicit ministry to "those who are sick" rather than to 
"those who are well" (Mt. 9.12 II). If we follow James' terminology, however, some of 
us must place ourselves among those he called the "sick-minded" — those for whom 
conversion involves a life-crisis. 

James was not specifically researching the problems of midlife — specific notice 
of the midlife phenomena would wait for others' researches — but many of us have car- 
ried his terminology and distinctions from our education into our interpretations of our 
own and others' lives. It is time to revise radically our acceptance of James' term 
"sick," for our response to this call to conversion at mid- life — in ourselves or in our 
fellows — will be wrong if the term persists. 

Understandably, people have some reticence in acknowledging the full weight 
of the crisis experience — both natural reticence about indiscriminate sharing of person- 
al stories and from not wanting to seem pre-occupied with one's problems. Additional- 
ly, although there is a growing body of research on the midlife transition, not to men- 
tion significant literature in fiction that is clearly an effort to explore this experience, 3 

2 Studzinski (1985), p. 59. 

3 Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Greene's The Power and the Glory, and The Heart of 
the Matter, and Irwin Shaw's Acceptable Losses come easily to mind. 

page 8 

the terms of discourse on such a difficult subject are not necessarily part of our intellec- 
tual equipment, even for professional pastoral purposes. 

My suggestion is that the conversion experience of midlife, if experienced as 
crisis, is particularly troubling and upsetting in the lives of clergy. For a call to conver- 
sion, coming at midlife to someone who has answered the earlier call to conversion, 
does not feel like a call to conversion. Instead, it feels like the collapse of one's earlier 
faith, calling into question whether that faith was real, whether that God in whom one 
had trusted — had indeed bet one's life upon — even is. It is some comfort that some 
Psalms and other parts of the Bible wrestle with a similar desolation, but the darkness 
of this night can still be overwhelming. This is, above all, the reason that for clergy the 
mid-life crisis becomes a crisis of faith and of vocation. 

Although we would like to discount it, it strikes at the heart of our vocation and 
profession. For we are professionally engaged and invested in religion and in its pro- 
motion and nurture. Because the religion we profess makes claims about the meaning 
of life, a crisis of faith (which involves a crisis of meaning) strikes us at the very core 
of our life, faith, and vocation. We are under obligation to proclaim to others what may 
for ourselves have become uncertain — or worse. What for many laity is more toward 
the fringes of life is for us central, and indeed involves both our very livelihood and our 
personal integrity. Thus, Studzinski writes with particular concern for clergy — as well 

as those devoted laity — 

who are in anguish over the stormy journey of midlife transition. They are those 
dedicated individuals within the churches today who have sincerely tried to use re- 
ligious beliefs as a framework for their lives. They sometimes hold positions of 
leadership in society as well as in the church. Their situation is often made more 
difficult because they are held up as models of stability. When they experience in- 
ternal upheaval in the middle of life, their first reaction is to disappear quietly from 
the scene in order to sort things out. Often, however, they feel constrained to stay 
with their current responsibilities. They may strive to cover up the rupture which 
exists between what they do in a stable church and what they are thinking and feel- 
ing as persons who are suddenly adrift. 4 

As Studzinski hints, there is a certain flavor of scandal attaching to a crisis of 

4 Studzinski (1985), pp. 3-4. 

page 9 

faith suffered by a priest. Of all people, it is supposed, the priest ought to be immune to 
it: many laity count on the priest to be rock-steady where they themselves are not Many 
laity attribute the weakness of their faith to their having to win their bread in secular oc- 
cupations. They feel a radical disjunction between religious and secular, between sacred 
and profane, and so they impose a radical difference between their lives and the lives of 
clergy colored by this notion. If only, they think, we could lead our lives within the 
sacred protection of the church and pursue a life of devotion to God and service to 
God's people, as the priest does, then we also could be strong in our faith. Although 
they do not choose to do this, they harbor the sentimental and romantic notion that cler- 
gy are — or surely ought to be — immune to the doubts and sins to which they them- 
selves are subject. 

It may seem to a priest in the midst of crisis that the support of the faith-com- 
munity melts away, so that the priest not only suffers the interior crisis with its despe- 
rate questioning but seems like a leper to other clergy and to laity who had formerly 
been a support. The crisis of faith suffered by a priest seems to present a terrifying 
threat to one's companions along the way, so that one is abandoned and isolated. 

From an interior and spiritual point of view this kind of crisis is the form the 
'dark night of the soul' takes for twentieth-century active Christians. From the view- 
point of career ministry, it may be called 'burnout.' Further, it has many links with 
what we have come to call the 'mid-life crisis' or crisis of limits and mortality— which, 
of course, is common to many and not peculiar to clergy. 

I. Jung's Contribution to Understanding Mid-Life 

The psychological research of Carl Jung and many of his followers is very 
helpful as a framework for thinking about the mid-life transition. Jung, above all his 
predecessors, is the psychologist of the second journey. His is a psychology of the 
second half of life. What he found himself engaged with is the integration of all the 
parts of the human psyche, which is the over-arching task of the middle and later years 
of a person's life. In bringing Jungian psychology forward for this study, it is only fair 
to say that I find myself to be unusual: only one or two of the respondents to the survey 

Jung's Contribution 

page 10 

mentioned Jungian psychology — although many of them knew their personality type 
according to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. I find this interesting, and even re- 
markable, since, in recent years, many books in the area of spiritual life and growth 
have used Jungian language and categories. 

I use the Jungian frame in this thesis because, first, it seems to me to provide an 
accounting of the way a personality develops from infancy through the span of life — 
and through the vicissitudes of the journey — that does not in itself involve judgments 
such as 'healthy' or 'sick.' It sees the development of the personality as a basically 
normal and healthy process, even though the mid-life transition, for example, may feel 
horrendous. Secondly, it accounts for the mid-life transition in terms that relate with 
some directness to the way the transition feels. It is one way — to me, a particularly 
engaging way — of imagining the life processes of the soul. Although in these pages it 
may seem that I use it as if it were definitive, in the long run I regard it as descriptive. 

A. The Archetype of the Self 

Jung is known especially for his discovery and naming of categories of the 

functioning of the human psyche, which he called Archetypes. An archetype, it turns 

out, is simply a pattern of the soul's functioning, passed on genetically in the human 

race, which is available to be filled with personal specificity as the person lives and 

accumulates experience. 5 

Of all the archetypes he discovered and named as he wrestled along with his pa- 
tients toward a second-journey wholeness, perhaps the most important is also the one 
that at first seems most obvious. It is the archetype of the Self. The Self as archetype, 
however, is not the conscious self we have been aware of for as long as we can re- 
member. As it turns out, the conscious self, or ego, is only the smaller part of the Self; 
the other, larger, part of it is the Unconscious, consisting of both the personal uncon- 
scious and the collective unconscious. 

When we entered this world we were entirely unconscious potentiality. We 

5 "An archetype is a psychic organ, an inherited mode of psychic functioning present in 
all of us." (Brewi and Brennan (1989), p. 90) 

Jung's Contribution 

page 1 1 

were not born with a ready-made awareness of self and world as distinct from each 
other. Although mother and child became separated in the act of birthing, the child's 
self continued at first to be psychically associated with the mother. To the baby, mother 
is an extension of the self. Both physical and mental development continued, and grad- 
ually consciousness emerged to become an ego-self. The conscious self we developed 
was never the whole self, but merely differentiated itself from the unconscious. It re- 
mained — and continues yet — in relation to the unconscious. Anne Brennan writes: 

There is always more to us than we know we are. . . . We are always becoming 
more than we have been. All this is still the Self. The ego or consciousness that we 
have at any one time is always there in relation to the more, or the Self. This ego- 
Self axis is the relation of the part to the whole, or the conscious part of the psyche 

to the totality of the psyche. 6 

The process and program of the second journey is to work out this ego-Self 

axis in a new and more wholesome mode of conscious life. The personality one has 

built in striving toward consciousness is lop-sided; while it functions well enough in 

the world as we pursue the program of the first journey, the ego-self begins to become 

aware that it must bow to the greater reality of the Self. Janice Brewi says that in the 

second half of life 

the conscious personality developed during childhood and youth is no longer the 
center of the stage. One's monarchical ego is unthroned as the journey toward 
wholeness is embarked upon. No longer is the ego the center of psychic life. Like a 
Copernican revolution the individual finds that a shift has occurred: the Self is the 

center and psychic life revolves around it 7 

As many of us can testify out of our experience, this awareness comes as 

something of a shock. That shock, and getting used to the new point of view, is what 

constitutes the mid-life crisis. For some people, the revolution comes more gradually 

and without a crisis. Value judgments such as 'good' and 'bad,' 'healthy-minded' and 

'sick-minded,' are to be avoided. The point is that, in one way or another, wholeness is 

the goal toward which the self is working. 

6 Brewi and Brennan (1989), p. 91. 

1 Ibid., p. 25. Reference to Jung (1939), The Integration of the Personality, p. 4. 
Translated by Stanley Dell. New York, Farrar and Rinehart. 

Jung's Contribution 

page 12 

Jung used the term 'individuation' to signify the wholeness toward which the 
soul is aiming. 'Individuation' simply means becoming an individual person, with all 
that means in a human social context. That is, becoming individual, we do not become 
grandly self-existent or self-sufficient. To the contrary, we become what we have the 
potential to be, and able to relate to others as a centered person. In a Christian frame of 
reference, this also means fulfilling the thought of God for us, becoming what we are 
called to be. "Individuation is becoming whole, reaching one's full potential, and sur- 
rendering to the reasons for one's very existence, one's reason for being, one's 
call." 8 

To posit such a wholeness of the soul is to embrace a vision of unity for the 
self, first, and then of the entire creation. It is ultimately an insistent monotheism both 
in the inner life and outwardly toward the created order. Whereas the various parts of 
one's experience, memories, life-stages, endeavors and relationships may seem diffi- 
cult if not impossible to reconcile into a unified whole, the archetype of the Self stands 
as a symbol of just such a unity, or integrated wholeness of conscious and unconsci- 
ous, toward which the soul naturally strives. The striving toward that integration is the 
specific task of the second journey, the part of a life-span beginning at the mid- life tran- 

B. The Archetype of the Shadow 

A second Jungian archetype important to this study is the Shadow. 9 The sha- 
dow is comprised of all the parts of the personality or soul that are not directly available 
to the light of consciousness. Jung wrote: "By the shadow I mean the 'negative' side of 
the personality, the sum of all those unpleasant qualities we like to hide, together with 
the insufficiently developed functions and the contents of the personal uncon- 


*Ibid., p. 234. 

^The Shadow is not only personal but archetypal because, while much of the contents of 
my Shadow are personal to me, the fact of the Shadow is a universal phenomenon." 
{Ibid., p. 90) 

10 Jung, Two Essays in Analytical Psychology, p. 66. Quoted in Ibid., p. 89. 

Jung's Contribution 

page 13 

The shadow personality feels to the conscious self as dark and mysterious. On 
the one hand, this is because the shadow contains the opposite of each function the ego 
has chosen to make into a strength. It is all the leftovers of those choices. On the other 
hand, the shadow feels dark and threatening because it contains all the memories we 
wish we could forget. 

As the consciousness emerges, some of the operating functions we are all born 
with seem easier and more comfortable in our environment, and we make them our pre- 
ferences. The opposite functions are set aside and neglected, and thus become the sha- 
dow personality. Since these are the underdeveloped opposites of those functions we 
have chosen to develop, they are and present themselves as somewhat primitive — and 
all the more unacceptable for that. So the shadow feels sinister, not only as threat but 
also literally (from the viewpoint of a right-handed world): it is the less-cultured part, it 
is 'gauche'; and when those functions are called into use we are likely to be 
embarrassed by their clumsiness. 

Jung said it is "the 'negative' side of the personality," with 'negative' in quotes 
because the shadow is like a photographic negative, the opposite of the self we know. 
As the consciousness of a child grows, the unconscious or shadow personality grows 
too, "duplicating in its flat, dark self every curve and contour of every inch of 
growth." 11 

If a young person in the years of ego formation — that is, generally from early 
childhood and into adolescence — has found satisfaction in taking in a whole experience 
rather than its details — the woods rather than the trees — then the choice is being formed 
for the intuitive function over the sensing function. Accordingly, the sensory function 
remains somewhat underdeveloped and takes its place in the shadow. If this young per- 
son also finds it easier to evaluate experiences in terms of a feeling response, then that 
feeling function is chosen as the preferred strength, and the opposite thinking function 
remains somewhat underdeveloped and becomes part of the shadow. While the picture 
is more complex than this — involving also whether the person is more at home in his or 
her inner life or related outward to the external world — this will perhaps suffice to sug- 

n Ibid., p. 90. 

Jung's Contribution 

page 14 

gest where the shadow comes from and what to expect from it. It is an inevitable con- 
comitant of ego formation, since we all begin with the same raw material of human 
possibilities and then make our choices about how we prefer to use them. 12 

Secondly, Jung says the shadow is, or contains, all those unpleasant things 
about ourselves we prefer to hide. The shadow personality feels to the conscious self as 
dark and mysterious, even as alien and threatening. This is because, besides the under- 
developed potentials we chose not to develop, it is the repository of many memories 

one would prefer to forget. Jung says: 

The personal unconscious contains lost memories, painful ideas that are repressed 
(i.e., forgotten on purpose), subliminal perceptions by which are meant sense per- 
ceptions that were not strong enough to reach consciousness, and finally contents 
that are not yet ripe for consciousness. 13 
These memories make themselves felt during the mid-life transition, and can be very 

disturbing. As a necessary process of the mid-life transition, it becomes necessary to 
allow many painful remnants of one's past to come to the surface of consciousness, to 
be dealt with in the fuller light of adult perspectives. More will be said about this pre- 

For many clergy, as the responses to my survey show, life-experience has in- 
cluded addiction to alcohol or drugs or both. Each person must answer for him/herself 
about the genesis of the addiction, but it may be said that very often it stems from the 
effort to avoid the pain of earlier life-experience. Schaef and Fassel state that addiction 
is a coping mechanism intended to control oneself and one's environment, to manage 
one's feelings by avoiding them. "By taking a drug or drink, addicts believe they can 
avoid dealing with what they are feeling, thinking, needing, wanting, or knowing." 14 

As an escape from inner pain, addiction may come early in adult life, and the 
mid-life crisis will eventually involve facing the addiction and its evils in oneself and 
one's family and work. On the other hand, its onset may be a first response to the fright 

12 "As an archetypal component of the psyche, the Shadow is neither simple nor static. To 
have a differentiated shadow which is a negative of our ego personality is, as a matter of 
fact, an achievement of individual psychological maturation." (Ibid., p. 90) 
13 Jung, Two Essays in Analytical Psychology, p. 66. Quoted in Ibid., p. 89. 
14 Schaef and Fassel (1988), p. 66. 

Jung's Contribution 

page 15 

of mid-life transition. Those who responded to the survey and checked this item are 
aware of it and have been dealing with it; we may suppose that addiction is in the past 
for them, that they are in recovery. (Among those who did not respond to the survey 
there may be some addicts who are not in recovery and so did not want to respond.) 
For some, addiction bore some relation to the breakup of marriage: either it contributed 
to the divorce or was a response to the loneliness afterward. 

It must be emphasized, however, that alcohol and drugs are not the only addic- 
tive 'substances' of choice for clergy. Like some other people, clergy tend toward the 
addiction to work, called workaholism. Schaef and Fassel are adamant about the seri- 
ousness of workaholism as an addiction, similar in basic mechanism to other addictions 

and just as destructive: 

We see workaholism as an addictive process in which the addictive agent is work. 
The workaholic becomes addicted to the process of work, using it as a fix in order 
to get ahead, be successful, avoid feeling, and ultimately avoid living. Like all ad- 
dictions, workaholism adversely affects families and personal relationships at home 
and on the job. It is a progressive disease that leads to death if not treated. 15 

One reason we entered the priesthood was that we wanted to help people. To be 

frank, this means that we have a need to be needed. There is nothing wrong or repre- 
hensible about having this need. Only, we must be aware of our need, and manage it so 
as not to do injustice to ourselves and our families. If we do not recognize that we have 
it, however, we can be taken in by our own need. We can put ourselves too much at 
others' disposal. We can organize our lives around pleasing other people, to our own 
and our family's detriment. The result can be disastrous, as the boundaries between 
oneself and others become blurred. "When one has no boundaries, the self and the 
other become indistinguishable and any sense of self or true recognition of the existence 
of the other is lost." 16 It seems to me that this is detrimental to effective ministry. 

15 Ibid., p. 130. 
l6 Ibid., p. 71. 

Mid-life Transition 

page 16 

II. The Mid-Life Transition 

A. The Loss of Life's Meaning 

As stated above, the task of the mid-life transition is to begin the integration of 

the whole Self, a process that will continue for years, perhaps until the moment of 
death. The entire first half of life has been taken up with the formation and establish- 
ment of the ego or conscious self and using it to establish a life in society, a career, a 
family, a place in society, a reputation among one's neighbors and peers. The second 
journey begins when that construction of a life somehow feels no longer satisfactory. 

Brennan writes: 

At mid-life we know that by exercising our willpower, we have achieved a great 
deal. We have sacrificed for our values. We have been able to be relatively loyal to 
our commitments. We have overcome laziness and been able to stick to something 
and work hard. We have bit by bit put something together, no matter how success- 
ful or unsuccessful we or others judge ourselves to be. ... Now, just when we have 
finally reached this pinnacle, we must be shot down. How so? Mid-life is, they 
say, 'getting to the top of the ladder and finding that it is against the wrong roof.' 
[This] is the first interpretation of the mid-life crisis of negative feelings. It is also 
an inkling that one is feeling the need to start over again. 17 

The integration of the Self will not mean — and must never be taken to mean — 

forsaking the construction of the ego personality one has achieved in the struggle of the 
earlier years. Rather, it means expanding it to allow some development of what was 
previously undervalued. 18 It means, as it were, allowing that the house one has built 
does in fact have a cellar, and that, dark and dank as it may seem, it contains some trea- 
sures that could add to the richness of one's life. Some of those treasures can be 
brought up into the light of consciousness, dusted off or washed up, and added to the 
beauty of the house. 

17 Brewi and Brennan (1989), pp. 97-8. 

18 "When one learns ... to integrate the Shadow into the conscious personality, the 
personality is leavened and it grows. One's life will be different but it will still be built on 
the foundation that has been there from the beginning. When one holds on until the 
opposites come together in some way that transcends the opposition, without losing either 
side, one becomes more real. One's lifestyle may look profoundly different (there may be 
geographic or career moves, inauthentic commitments may be exchanged for new ones); 
or, things may appear much the same on the surface. Yet, deep down, all will be new." 
(Ibid., p. 98) 

Mid-life Transition 

page 17 

This analogy is an ego-centred image, and the process beginning with the first 
intimations of mid-life transition will not admit of following it in terms of taking a light 
down into the cellar and looking around. For the Unconscious resists the imperialism 
of the ego's invasion. The ego desires to conquer the dark with the light of conscious- 
ness, but the Unconscious will not be thus conquered. On the contrary, it will be ho- 
nored and loved. This is the meaning of integration. 

The mid-life transition begins more as an experience of discomfort. At the very 
least, it feels like a bad case of ennui, what in medieval ascetical theology was called 

accidie. People in the throes of this 

find they are disenchanted with themselves and with all that is going on around 
them. Many have the sense of having reached the limits of life at what is only its 
midpoint Boredom is often their lot. Reactions to this experience vary greatly with 
individuals, but many feel the need to strike out in a new direction. 19 

The entire first half of life has been taken up with the formation and establish- 
ment of the ego or conscious self and using it to establish a life in society, a career, a 
family, a place in society, a reputation among one's neighbors and peers. To the person 
in that first journey, this is the program of life. It is, indeed, what is appropriate in that 
stage, and no particular intimation of any change in that program is allowed to disturb 
us. When the transition begins to be felt, the program of life is called in question, and 
one feels disoriented. The transition at some point — whether at the beginning or later — 
may even feel like a threat, as the shadow makes its presence felt. It comes as a dis- 
juncture, an opposition, a being engaged by a presence that might not be entirely 
friendly — and this from within one's own self. By mid-life the ego consciousness is 
well established, but the shadow personality has also developed sufficiently to engage 
the ego consciousness. Earlier than mid-life, the ego would have been in more danger 
of being swallowed up by the unconscious and going mad. At mid-life the ego is strong 
enough to engage with the shadow without being swallowed whole. However, faced 
with this very new kind of engagement, the ego is in danger of closing in on itself. 

Brennan says: 

It is the Shadow, then, as the unconscious parts of the personality that the consci- 

19 Studzinski (1985), p. 2. 

Mid-life Transition 

page 18 

ous ego has tended to reject or ignore, which begins to emerge as a kind of num- 
ber-two personality. Is it friend or foe? This is the mid-life question. Answering 
that question in fidelity to my Self, as the unique image of God that I am called to 
be, as I wrestle with it in each real situation that presents the question, is the spi- 
rituality of mid-life. 20 

One's initiation into this new stage of the life journey may come from within or 

from without. Perhaps it is truest to say that it arises in the depth of the dialogue one 
holds between the inner life and the' external circumstances in which we live out our 
lives. That is, boredom (for example) is an inner response to life or to work, but may 
be revealed in a less-than-positive evaluation at work. In such a case, it is something 
like an elderly person's suffering a broken hip and subsequently falling: one may at- 
tribute the broken hip to the fall, whereas in actuality the break may be the antecedent 
cause of the fall. It doesn't matter much: whichever came first, there is a person with a 
broken hip to be treated. Contrariwise, a demotion at work may bring on a sense of 
futility and a realization of mortality that occasions a full-blown crisis. To the ego con- 
sciousness, it is not at all certain where the causes and effects lie in this transition, nor 
does it matter much. In any case, it demands our attention. 

B. Intimations of Mortality 

The transition will always be disturbing, and it will always raise weighty ques- 
tions about the meaning of one's life. Frequently it will come in some form of encoun- 
ter with one's own mortality and the limits of life. 21 So the mid-life crisis is called the 

crisis of limits or of mortality. Sullender states that 

As people pass over the mid-point of the life cycle and enter the later years, they 
report that they have an emerging sense of the limited nature of time. They begin to 

2 0Brewi and Brennan (1989), p. 92. 

21 "Confronted with personal finiteness and the inevitability of approaching death, many 
people are forced to reconsider how they understand themselves, what will make them 
happy, and what will give their lives continued meaning. For them midlife is the time when 
the past comes up for review and is re-evaluated so that they can arrive at more realistic 
expectations for the future. Some people handle midlife quietly and smoothly, others 
experience considerable upheaval, indeed a 'midlife crisis.' For all, there is a 'midlife 
transition,' a process or change which marks this period in life." (Studzinski (1985), pp. 

Mid-life Transition 

page 19 

measure life not by how far they have come, but by how much time they have left. 
They come to experience life as increasingly limited. In the second half of life the 
future feels as though it is narrowing; it seems that there are fewer possibilities, 

fewer options. 22 

This can be a dawning realization, or it can be a profoundly shaking crisis experience. 

Clergy have to deal with mortality far more than most other people do. Ministry 
to the sick, the aging and the dying, and their families, conducting funerals — all this is 
a regular part of parish ministry. We develop a certain professional distance from the 
painful reality of it that is both necessary to our own spiritual balance and can be com- 
forting to those we minister to. We can become so professional, however, that we are 
simply numb. Then, out of the blue, one day it hits us and becomes real in a very 
personal way. 

James Fowler begins his book, Stages of Faith, with a particularly vivid 
account of this encounter with mortality. He begins the introduction of the book with 
this encounter, to set the stage for his discussion of what faith is and how it develops 
through various stages. The experience happened to him when he was thirty-two years 

old. He writes: 23 

Four A.M., in the darkness of a cold winter morning, suddenly I am fully and 
frighteningly awake. I see it clearly. I am going to die. / am going to die. This bo- 
dy, this mind, this lived and living myth, this husband, father, teacher, son, friend, 
will cease to be. The tide of life that propels me with such force will cease and I — 
this / taken so much for granted by me — will no longer walk this earth. A strange 
feeling of remoteness creeps over me. My wife, beside me in bed, seems complete- 
ly out of reach. My daughters, asleep in other parts of the house, seem in this mo- 
ment like vague memories of people I had once known. My work, my professional 
associates, my ambitions, my dreams and absorbing projects feel like fiction. 'Real 
life' suddenly feels like a transient dream. In the strange aloneness of this moment, 
defined by the certainty of death, I awake to the true facts of life. . . . 

. . .[I]n the distancing of that strange awakening my faith, like my wife and 
children, seemed remote and detached from me. I looked at it as one might look at 
an overcoat hanging on the far side of the room. During those moments I was not 
in my faith. I seemed to stand completely naked — a soul without body, raiment, 
relationships or roles. A soul alone with — with what? With whom? 

22 Sullender (1989), p. 43. 
23 Fowler(1981),p. xi-xii. 

Mid-life Transition 

page 20 

Not everyone encounters his/her mortality in as dramatic a way as this, of 
course. Besides, thirty-two is unusually young for such an experience. In its very dra- 
ma, though, this piece of story-telling does present some aspects of many such encoun- 
ters. It begins in existential fear and anxiety, a fear at the very core of one's being, 
wrenching and inescapable. It proceeds to notice the distancing from loved ones and 
one's life and life-projects. Further — especially relevant to the study of experiences of 
clergy — it also notices the detachment even from one's faith. 

Mortality — the indisputable but normally unnoticed fact that "/ am going to 
die" — is a realization that is lonely in its essence. It assails those meanings on which we 
have built our lives, removes them from our attachment to them, and sets them over 
against us like "an overcoat hanging on the far side of the room." The loves, the ef- 
forts, the values, the relationships, the projects we have spent our lives building are all 
relativized and made mortal by the fact that we are mortal — "/ am going to die." 

In the first journey of life it is normal to disregard most signs of mortality. Mor- 
tality is an abstraction, one may perhaps discuss it philosophically. Mortality happens 
to people — but not to me. The response of many of young people to the threat of AIDS 
is typical of the young: it is a threat, but it doesn't apply to me. The way many people 
drive their cars in the first half of life is typical of the same cavalier response to danger. 
There is danger, but I am immune. Then, one day, something makes us realize that "/ 
am going to die." Then life appears in a new color. 

The bravado of youth is an early way of coping with the uncertainty of life, 
which we first became aware of as infants — initially in the dawning consciousness that 
Mother is not always dependable to do our bidding. Surviving infancy we learn to 
handle that threat by denying it. Then, when the abstraction of mortality becomes a 
personal certainty, the infantile fears come up again to be recognized and settled anew 

with the resources of adult rationality. 

As [individuals confront] their own death, they surrender the fantasy of earthly 
immortality. This confrontation with mortality brings a person face to face with 
existential anxiety, a terror and fear that well up when one is faced with the limits of 
human existence. Yet it is in this largely unconscious struggle with anxiety that one 
can discover a renewed vitality for creative engagement with life. In one sense the 

Mid-life 'transition 

page 21 

struggle is not entirely new, for the present phase in human experience is always 
connected with the dynamic, albeit unconscious, memories of the past. The terror 
which is experienced in the depths of the human psyche at midlife is a primitive 
feeling which has its roots in the very first period of human life. Its reemergence 
enables a person to deal with it with increased rational powers and to resolve the 
early infantile conflict more adequately. 24 

Brewi puts the matter in terms that all of us in mid-life can recognize, whether 

we acknowledge infantile fears or not. The realization that my life is limited comes as a 

shock, usually through some event; it may be an event in our life circumstances, or it 

may be an inner realization. Again, it is truest to say that it arises in the depth of the 

dialogue one holds between the inner life and the external circumstances in which we 

live out our lives. 

Both small and great events can be the cause of one's kingdom tumbling down. The 
infidelity of a spouse, one's own infidelity, the death of a spouse, a divorce, 
children leaving home, an empty nest, children not leaving home, a promotion, a 
demotion, young know-it-alls moving into the workplace, the death of a close peer, 
the sickness of aged and dependent parents, the death of parents, a child on drugs, 
an unwanted pregnancy, sexual problems, the inability to throw a ball as you used 
to or to swim or run with the same vigor, a first illness, putting on weight, forced 
retirement — any of these can be the cause of someone asking, Is this all there is? Is 

this what I spent myself for? 25 

As I come to realize that my life is limited and that I shall one day die, certain 

kinds of questions soon present themselves, insisting that I ponder them. No longer 
invincible, I must come to realize that my life has limits before ever I draw near the 
grave. Self-doubt assails the person in the throes of mid-life transition. Daniel Levin- 
son, in his study The Seasons of a Man's Life, describes the dilemma and the self- 
doubts that plague a person who has begun to feel the limits of life. 

A man in the Mid-life Transition is troubled by his seemingly imminent death. He is 
beset even more by the anxiety that he will not be able to make his future better than 
his past. As he seeks to modify and enrich his life, he has self-doubts ranging in in- 
tensity from mild pessimism to utter panic: 'Can I make my life more worthwhile in 
the remaining years? Am I now too old to make a fresh start? Have I become obso- 
lete? What shall I try to do and be for myself, for my loved ones, for my tribe, for 
humanity?' The worst feeling of all is to contemplate long years of meaningless 

24 Studzinski (1985), pp. 35-36. 

25 Brewi and Brennan (1989), pp. 209-210. 

Mid-life Transition 

page 22 

existence without youthful passions, creative effort or social contribution.' 26 
As we begin now to assess the time we have left, rather than the distance we 

have come, questions about the meaning and quality of our life become urgent. Our 
first journey has begun to pale as the meaning our life, but what is the meaning we now 
want our life to have? It is in this questioning that a person might begin, for example, to 
ask "What is the real legacy — the spiritual legacy — I want my children to have from 
me?" In light of this kind of questioning, decisions need to be made and action taken to 
focus our life more intentionally than we did before. 

The self-questioning continues when the older generation — parents and extend- 
ed family — dies. This is often in the same period of our life. The death of our parents, 
and of parent-figures — aunts and uncles and our parents' peers — leaves us willy-nilly 
holding the position of elders. To the younger generation — whether our lives command 
their respect or not — we hold life in trust, and we feel responsible toward them. For 
ourselves, the world is more empty with our parents no longer available for consulting 
or sharing memories with, and we are more alone in a deep existential way. On the 

other hand, we pass into a new stage of life, of generativity and fulfillment. 

We take up the artist's brushes and for better or worse leave our mark of life's 
canvas. This new life stage can be the most productive and creative of our life 
cycle. But it will be so only if we are able to say 'goodbye' to our parents and not 

cling to them. . P 

In the first journey of life we set out into the world 'to seek our fortune,' as 

many folk-tales put it. We were active, we were setting about establishing our place in 

the world, creating a family and a career. The death of parents is among the events in 

which we shall suffer loss, and to learn to grieve. Sullender sees that this means not 

just one loss but a constellation of losses: 

Yes, we know that we lost our childhood years ago when we grew up and left 
home. It seemed O.K. then. We were going on to something else. But now when 
our parents die, we feel as if we are losing our childhood all over again. Maybe we 
are losing our history. . . . We lose our parents, yes, but we also lose something 

26 Daniel J. Levinson, The Seasons of a Man's Life (New York, Ballantine Books, 
1976), p. 217. Quoted in Sullender (1989), p. 44. 

27 Sullender (1989), p. 88. 

Mid-life Transition 

page 23 

else — our childhood. We grieve for both. 28 

This passive aspect of mid-life adds to its discomfort. As mid-life comes we 

seem acted upon by events common to many of us. Further, in our inner self the neg- 
lected or rejected parts of the self assert their presence and demand recognition. The 
initiative is no longer that of our conscious self, as it used to be. The initiative has been 
taken over, pre-empted, by — what? Or whom? 

C. Settling the Past 

The ego's first reaction to its encounter with the shadow is fear. The shadow 

seems to threaten everything one has invested much effort cultivating in the first half of 
life, and also its very obscurity evokes our fear of the unknown. 29 For some people 
one of the principal encounters with the shadow comes as the upsurge of the painful 
memories that have lain repressed and pushed into the personal unconscious. Its feels 
like an invasion of the conscious life by the past which one had almost kept at bay pre- 
viously. One may have learned to be generally philosophical about wounds received 
and wounds inflicted: I can manage my hurts, lots of others have suffered a lot worse; 
everybody makes mistakes, and mine are not as bad as some others'. But they will not 
go away anymore, they insist on being recognized and felt deeply. It may happen that 
some very painful event or juncture of events serves to focus our attention, at last, and 
make us aware of how hurt we are. 

To begin to feel pain and fear deeply calls forth memories of pain and fear from 
earlier in life — memories that have to be felt deeply all over again, or it may even seem 
for the first time, and allowed their legitimate place as feelings without any judgment 

2 *Ibid., p. 86. 

29 "These encounters with the Shadow are never an easy or simplistic affair. Yet, the word 
Shadow may give a name to all kinds of inexpressible new experiences of oneself that are 
totally individual. Trying to capture these very complex and subtle experiences in a word 
does place these sometimes frightening and always disturbing experiences within the 
horizon of human experience, and it is often infinitely comforting to know that one has had 
many Shadow experiences and is not 'simply losing one's mind.' As one is contacted now 
by both the psychological zoo and the embryonic beginnings of new greatness within, the 
result is a kind of chaos. Only when the lion and the lamb have come together in some area 
does one begin to glimpse the kingdom within." (Brewi and Brennan (1989), p. 92) 

Mid-life Transition 

page 24 

whether the feelings were 'good' or 'bad,' justified or not. 

In reappraising his life during the mid-life transition, a man must come to a new 
understanding of his grievances against others for the real or imagined damage they 
have done him. For a time, he may be helplessly immobilized by the helpless rage 
he feels toward parents, wife, mentors, friends, and loved ones who, as he now 
sees it, have hurt him badly. And, grievances now against himself — for the des- 
tructive effects he has had on others and himself. 30 
Impotent rage toward those in our life who have abused their power over us, betrayed 

our trust, or simply were careless of us, has to be felt, now at last. It can be very dis- 
turbing to someone who has maintained a conscious posture of loving and forgiving, to 
become (it seems) possessed by these bitter feelings. This is a time for healing, though, 
not for fixing, and the feelings must be allowed their force until they abate. 

Then there is the awakening when we begin to see our own past actions through 
the eyes of those we have hurt. Humiliated, we realize there is nobody else on whom to 
cast the blame. There is nothing to do but apologise, or make ourself ready to make 
amends if opportunity should present itself. Both as victim and as villain, we take our 
place in the long story of human evil, and it is a struggle to acknowledge that. Brennan 


It is hard to acknowledge that we can be unwittingly destructive. It is even harder to 
admit our hostile, destructive wishes toward others, even more intimate others. It is 
harder still to own our bitterness and hatred expressed in the cruel, disparaging, 
petty, controlling, hurtful things we have done even to loved ones and with some- 
times frightful consequences. 31 

Many feelings that attach to one's particular experience call for being put to rest 

as the midlife transition begins. Youthful peccadilloes may return unbidden to the con- 
scious memory, presenting the opportunity for a new realization of harm done to others 
or of the risk to life and limb one carelessly undertook and how it might have turned out 
otherwise. It is no longer acceptable to excuse oneself from this particularity since they 
are common to many or all others. Each one's experience is one's own, and must be 
acknowledged and reappropriated into the perspectives of the second journey. Taking 

30 Roger Gould, Transformations: Growth and Change in Adult Life. New York: Simon 
and Schuster, 1978. Quoted in Ibid., p. 94. 

^Ibid., p. 95. 

Mid-life Transition 

page 25 

the time to reflect on our experience, we eventually come to see that the first journey of 
life was essentially ego-centred. It was appropriately so, as we built our ego-con- 
sciousness, but now we begin to see the corruption of it in the childishness of our 
suffering and hurtful deeds. 

Recapitulating, as it were, our earlier life and allowing these feelings from the 
past to reenter our conscious life, we begin as well to remember our very ambivalent 

feelings toward our parents or other trusted adults, left over from childhood. 

In reference to our parents, most of us feel a generalized guilt left over from child- 
hood. We all have long histories, filled with pleasant and painful memories. . . . Just 
below the surfaces of our adult facades, there is still a little girl or a little boy that 
wants daddy's recognition or mommy's embrace more than anything else in all the 
world. And in the mind of that little girl or little boy, we still may feel that we have 
never quite earned either the recognition or the embrace. This kind of generalized 
guilt is almost universal with parents and their adult children. 32 

In childhood it was natural for us to regard Mom and Dad as gods. Starting out 

in this world we were dependent on them and on their good will; to us as small children 

they were all-powerful, able to meet our needs and to punish our misdeeds. Leaving 

home we let go of that, only to realize much later that it has in certain primitive ways 

stayed the same at the bottom of our heart. Part of the mid- life settling of the past is to 

remember our parents and our lives as children, and to forgive them for being 


A part of the normal developmental process is a growing out of this kind of primi- 
tive dependency or parental idolatry. In time we come to see our parents as humans. 
Like us they are prone to mistakes; like us, they cannot be everywhere at once; and 

like us, they are not perfect 33 

Yet, it is a struggle to get to this kind of mature perspective on our parents, and 

not everyone does so. There may be some remnant of feeling wronged by our parents, 

wounded unjustly by slights or by insults or by outright abuse. 

We all feel some disappointment in our parents. It's an inevitable part of growing 
up. Some people get this disappointment worked through before their parents die. 
Others do not and carry their resentment into their bereavement It is hard to be 

32 Sullender(1989),p. 81. 
^Ibid., p. 84. 

Mid-life Transition 

page 26 

angry with the deceased when we're supposed to feel sorrowful. 34 

For some, "disappointment" may be much too mild a word, as the memories of 

wrongs and wounds are more extreme. For a person whose parents' treatment can only 
be called abusive, the feelings toward them may — and should — surface as a real rage. 
As the recent literature on abuse has emphasized, the survival tactic of a child is to re- 
press the feelings of such experiences — even when it is simply an unhappy incident and 
not a horrible instance of physical or verbal abuse. The adult still carries those memo- 
ries, submerged below consciousness, and in mid-life, if not earlier, they force 
themselves into consciousness for healing. This invasion of consciousness may come 
when the parents die. 

Further, especially for the religious person, we begin to see how we have 
sought to identify with the highest and biggest power, God, in our own interest of 

being righteous and of controlling life's uncertainties. Studzinski wisely notes that 

with the passing of youth there is now something to be mourned and one's own 
eventual death is to be anticipated. This forces a person to come to terms with per- 
sonal destructiveness and hate. The desire to totally control one's environment and 
one's future, frequently through a close relationship with God, the all- good provi- 
der, has proven to be unrealizable. Plagued by unfulfilled dreams and by shattered 
ideals, persons at midlife find that the enemy of their fulfillment and happiness is 
less outside themselves in other people or in situations and more within, in their 

own hearts. 35 

Other memories may arise too, of wounds we received and wounds we inflicted 

on others long after childhood, calling us to accept responsibility for our feelings and 

our actions. This is a call to conversion — again — to faith in the living God. It is a time 

to learn forgiveness — both of others for wounds we have received, and of ourselves 

for wounds we have inflicted In being reconciled with our own imperfection, we can 

also be reconciled with others in their imperfections. 

III. Professional Life 

In the questionnaire I asked further: "In terms of your professional life, how did 
your crisis make you feel?" One respondent wrote, "At the time of each crisis, there 

Mlbid., p. 82. 

35 Studzinski(1985),p. 37. 

Professional Life 

page 27 

was a sense of failure, powerlessness, futility, like being at the end of the rope." Ano- 
ther answered the question in a word: "incompetent." I echo these from my experience, 
and it is a terrible feeling. 

A third Jungian archetype that is important for this study is the Persona. This is 
relevant to the question of professional life, because it is essentially the interface be- 
tween the Self and society. Jung described it this way: 

The Persona is a complicated system of relations between the individual consci- 
ousness and society, fittingly enough a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to 
make a definite impression upon others, and on the other, to conceal the true nature 
of the individual. That the latter function is superfluous, could be maintained only 
by one who is so identified with his Persona that he no longer knows himself; and 
that the former is unnecessary could only occur to one who is quite unconscious of 

the true nature of his fellows. 36 

The years of life-building between school-leaving and the mid-life transition are 

the years of settling into the functional personas that go with the various social roles of 
the life one has chosen. Jung took the word persona from the mask a player in Greek 
drama held in front of his/her face. The mask did two things: it identified the character, 
and it helped project the voice. Thus it mediated the character in the drama from the 
actor to the audience, and hid the actor's face. To us a mask suggests hiding behind 
something false and illegitimate; but as Jung saw it, the persona is not only functional 
but necessary for mediating between one's inner self and the world of social relation- 
ships. Brennan writes: 

Personas are real aspects of our personality; they are real vehicles of our personal- 
ity. A healthy person has several personas, and moves automatically from one to 
another. In one day he may move from husband to accountant to daddy to son of an 
aging mother to Little League coach to eucharistic minister to volunteer fireman to 
handyman around the house to ballroom dancer to erotic lover. 37 

Obviously, the various personas here listed are only partly distinguishable. If 

one really seems a different person from one social interaction to another — like Clark 

Kent and Superman — then there is a mental health problem that calls for attention. A 

36 Jung, Two Essays in Analytical Psychology, p. 192. Quoted in Brewi and Brennan 
(1989), p. 199. 

^Ibid., p. 199. 

Professional Life 

page 28 

healthy person will use the various personas to express different aspects of his/her per- 
sonality and will not feel too serious a disjunction between them. In myself, for ex- 
ample, I can trace resonances between the role of musical performer and some liturgi- 
cal aspects of priestly ministry: as interpreter of a piece of music I try to lead listeners 
into experiencing the music's feeling; as liturgist I try to help congregants enter into an 
experience of worship. 

For a priest the persona includes the social role of clergy-person. Clearly socie- 
ty has expectations of the way clergy will speak and act — some of which are unrealistic 
or inappropriate — that clergy in their early years of ministry must in some way learn to 
consider in their dealings in society. In some types of personality, or out of certain life- 
experience circumstances, a priest can become too closely identified with the clergy 
persona (as Jung warned above), and become dysfunctional to that extent until it is 

The truism that clergy are human includes the fact that clergy are just as prone to 
suffer the kind of life-crisis that other people suffer as they face the change of perspec- 
tive of the second half of life. With clergy, however, this crisis has some dimensions 
that are not as common with others. For one thing, there is the professional and public 
aspect of a priest's life, and for another thing, there is the inner life that necessarily 
inheres in a regular dealing in things of God. 

These two aspects of a priest's life are in dialogue. The professional side of the 
coin involves the administration of parish affairs — Vestry meetings, money-raising 
concerns, education of adults and children, and so on. There is, further, counseling the 
troubled, visiting the sick and shut-ins, pastoral visits to parishioners in their homes, 
and all such things. In some of these activities (though not in all), the quality of the 
priest's inner life is displayed, somewhat direcdy and somewhat indirectly, in the qual- 
ity of his/her faith convictions. For example, over the course of months the preacher's 
faith will be displayed for all to see: the preacher's vision of life, what the preacher be- 
lieves about whether God is, and (if so) what God's relation to human life and institu- 
tions is. The inner life and the professional life are in a more explicit and insistent dialo- 

Professional Life 

page 29 

gical polarity in a priest than in most laity, and therefore the mid-life transition may well 
affect a priest more critically than most others. 

This is not only a matter of ethics, as would also be the case with (for example) 
doctors. It is at the very core of ethics, at the very source of ethics in the deepest well- 
spring of spiritual life and imagination. At the same time, it is more explicit and public 
in ministry than in most other walks of life. 

The overhaul of the persona will probably be a necessary part of the mid-life 
transition, and especially urgent when the transition comes as a crisis. As the interface 
between soul and society, the persona is a functional part of everybody's personality at 
every stage of conscious life. In the first journey of life we have established our ways 
of relating to others, ways that are more or less satisfactory and manageable. As part of 
the mid-life change of focus, one may have to adjust this interface to reflect more ade- 
quately toward others what one is coming to know about oneself. 

In the mid- life transition the accustomed 'ministerial' persona may come to feel 
dysfunctional, and a priest may feel the urgent need to revise his/her ways of relating to 
others. An earlier confidence would have been projected socially through a professional 
mask that mediated that confidence. A professional persona that was 'imperial' may 
have been erected as a defense against vulnerability. As the mid-life change of focus 
brings vulnerability and a sense of the limits of life, the persona may have to undergo a 
thorough overhaul. 

Considering the interrelations between priest and world, and the inner stresses 
of the priest's faith journey, the kind of society we live and minister in makes a differ- 
ence. In American society of the late twentieth century many people feel adrift: it is a 
general attitude. In generations past, the world transmitted to people meaning and va- 
lues which were traditional. People were encouraged by the world to derive meaning in 
their lives from religion, from national pride, from their work and from the family. In 
the present generation, these sources of value are weakened and no longer communicate 
or command allegiance as they did formerly. Most people do not any longer relate to the 
traditional symbols and beliefs. Besides, we live in an increasingly pluralistic culture, 

Professional Life 

page 30 

so that the problem of shared values becomes more complicated. Sullender notes that 

more and more modem, particularly urban, people are experiencing an existential 
emptiness. It is a frightening thing to realize that one's life is essentially meaning- 
less, that one's life is really insignificant and that all of one's life work counts for 
naught. More and more people seem to feel this way, and seem to be on a search 
for a more lasting sense of purpose and meaning. 38 

This seems a wonderful opportunity for evangelism, the church having an an- 
swer (for some, 'the' answer) to the hunger for purpose and meaning. Some clergy and 
some laity are able to make use of the opportunity, but we must reckon with the simple 
fact that there is no clear separation between church and world, between sacred and 
secular. The church gathered for worship is still the world, and to a degree we have still 
bet our lives on what the world bejs on. Living in daily contact, social intercourse and 
professional ministry with such a world, it can be extremely difficult to carry forward 
the conversion to which one is called anew. The nihilism and unfaith of the world add 
to the difficulty of maintaining a personal faith when that faith feels very shaky. 

The priest may also feel conflict between her/his idealism and the political and 
institutional aspect of the church. A serious disillusionment with the church as institu- 
tion sometimes arises as an integral part of the midlife experience. Some research 

sees the conflict between individual commitments and organizational methods and 
goals as the cause of some midlife crises. Persons who consider themselves altru- 
istic may find that the organizations to which they belong not only operate different- 
ly but also are opposed to personal value-orientations in significant areas. 39 
Several respondents to the survey stated flady that clergy must become psychologically 

independent of the church, and more will be said about that in later chapters. Several 

clergy who have left church ministry, mostly or entirely, responded to the survey, and 

they generally showed that this conflict of values between themselves and the church 

was at least a contributing reason for their departure. Further, most of them say they are 

spiritually much better off and happier doing some ministry of service in the world than 

they were in the church. Some terse remarks suggest some lingering bitterness toward 

the church for having turned out so manipulative, controlling and hardened. 

38 Sullender(1989),p.l4. 
39 Studzinski (1985), p. 43. 

Inner Conversion 

page 3 1 

IV. Inner Conversion 

This chapter must close by returning to its beginning. In the survey I asked a 
further question: "How did your prayer/spiritual life fare through the crisis?" The big- 
gest problem for clergy as they undergo the mid-life transition — what above all may 
make it a crisis — is exactly in the interface between inner life and world. If only one 
were an accountant or a mechanic or almost anything other than a priest, the pain would 
not be so sharp. The adopted persona no longer serves well. It does not serve well be- 
cause the inner person feels adrift. Studzinski, we recall, writes out of concern for 


who are in anguish over the stormy journey of midlife transition. . . those dedicated 
individuals within the churches today who have sincerely tried to use religious be- 
liefs as a framework for their lives.. . . Their situation is often made more difficult 
because they are held up as models of stability. [Although] they experience internal 
upheaval in the middle of life, . . . [often] they feel constrained to stay with their cur- 
rent responsibilities. They may strive to cover up the rupture which exists between 
what they do in a stable church and what they are thinking and feeling as persons 

who are suddenly adrift. 40 

Regarding clergy, the dialogue between their inner life and convictions and the world in 

which they and their parishioners live can become exquisitely painful as the inner world 

is cut adrift. 

It is of the nature of ministry to be 'in the middle' — to be in some fashion me- 
diating between God and God's people. Moses was a mediator between God and Isra- 
el: he spoke with God face to face, and carried God's counsels and decrees to the peo- 
ple. Jesus is the mediator who reconciles us with God. The priest cannot avoid being 
alongside the people but also speaking for God to the people. Being among the people 
and not different from them, the priest is "to nourish Christ's people from the riches of 
his grace, and strengthen them to glorify God in this life and in the life to come" (BCP, 
page 531). 

But suppose that the priest's inner life and prayer have become intolerably pain- 
ful, suppose that the biblical statements of faith not only no longer strike fire but even 
seem to speak of a God who no longer acts or speaks, who has become silent. Suppose 

40 Ibid., pp. 3-4. 

Inner Conversion 

page 32 

that the Daily Office and the Eucharist seem trapped within the world of our religion — 
things we do but with the dimension of God's transcendence and grace lost in murky 
darkness. Even one's experiences of God in the past become matter for doubt: did they 
happen? did they mean what I took them to mean? 

Theological questions resurface, to be thought out again from a changing point 
of view. One way to put this is a stanza from John Shea's poem, "A Prayer to Queen 

Theology:" 41 

What I mean is that 

tied between birth and death 

like Samson between pillars 

we push. 

What falls on us is theology. 

With a light touch, Shea says something that one finds in mid-life. Tied between the 
pillars of birth and death, we moment by moment push death farther away from birth. 
When the roof caves in on us, that's theology! The opening lines of this poem recall 
that ". . .theology chases clarity / like a dog after a downed duck. . .," and the pursuit of 
clarity is characteristic of the first journey. But in mid- life it is time to reassess our per- 
sonal theology from within the experience of the roof caving in on our head. 

What this feels like can best be expressed in poetry. The feeling of oppression 
in mid-life is profoundly expressed in Thomas Merton's poem, "Whether There is En- 
joyment in Bitterness" 42 — truly a poem of a religious man from the 'dark wood' 

midway in our life's journey: 

This afternoon, let me be a 
sad person. Am I not 
permitted (like other men) 
to be sick of myself? 

Am I not allowed to be hollow 
or fall into the hole 
or break my bones (within me) 
in the trap set by my own 

41 Shea. "A Prayer to Queen Theology", in The God Who Fell From Heaven.Aigus 

42 Merton (1957), p. 25. 

Inner Conversion 

page 33 

lie to myself? O my friend, 
I too must sin and sin. 

I too must hurt other people and 
(since I am no exception) 
I must be hated by them. 

Do not forbid me, therefore, 
to taste the same bitter poison, 
and drink the gall that love 
(love most of all) so easily becomes. 

Do not forbid me (once again) to be 
angry, bitter, disillusioned, 
wishing I could die. 

While life and death are 
killing one another in my flesh, 
leave me in peace. I can enjoy, 
even as other men, this agony. 

Only (whoever you may be) 
pray for my soul. Speak my name 
to Him, for in my bitterness 
I can hardly speak to Him, and He 
While He is busy killing me 
refuses to listen. 

One never knows how long "this afternoon" will last: the second journey is the 
afternoon of life, but this mood of sadness and anguish may last this afternoon or this 
week, or this year or — who knows? It is of the mid-life condition to be sick of oneself, 
to feel oppressed by what one has made of life, and especially by false choices and 
misdeeds, and to want to be quit of it altogether. Mid-life is a time to feel "hollow," 
falling and breaking inside "in the trap set by my own lie to myself," as the life we have 
worked for years to build becomes disoriented and collapses. And mid-life, as I said 
above, is a time to recollect and resettle old scars and old scores, to become painfully 
aware that one has "hurt other people and . . . must be hated by them." 

Especially painful, for those whose vocation and profession is handling the 

Inner Conversion 

page 34 

word and sacraments of God, is this: "in my bitterness / 1 can hardly speak to Him, and 
He / While He is busy killing me / refuses to listen." For this above all poses the possi- 
bility that faith itself is part of the "trap set by my own lie to myself." As I become less 
and less sure of what my life is about, I become correspondingly unsure of the nature 
and character of God whose witness I am called to be. Is God truly gracious, or truly 
vengeful? The God whom I thought I knew becomes wholly mysterious, opaque and 
distant, even seems to turn against me as adversary. And can I speak a word of faith to 
God's people this week? Can I celebrate the eucharist with anything resembling faith? 

". . .In my bitterness / 1 can hardly speak to Him, and He / While He is busy 
killing me / refuses to listen." If God has turned enemy, at least the poet suffers some 
action of God's. Even that is better than the desolation that may come after it, the seem- 
ing total absence of God, the seemingly resolute turning away so that whether God is 
becomes not only an open question but an irrelevancy. 'Negative attention is better than 
no attention at all! ' Better God should be "busy killing me" than to leave me alone to 
wonder if there be any God at all — to wonder whether the faith I have professed is 
merely a chimera, a self-construct to reassure myself against the darkness, a "trap set 
by my own lie to myself." "Mid- life spirituality is a dark night of the soul." 43 It is a 
call to reorient theology from within Jesus' cry of dereliction on the cross. 

Brewi captures the condition of one's faith in the midst of this pain and 

anguish — so well that she must have experienced it herself: 

In the wake of a broken relationship, shattered dreams, mental or physical collapse, 
lost joy and lost soul, painful betrayal, and a darkness never before imagined, one 
finds oneself without hope or expectation for new life, resurrection. One's vision is 
blurred, one cannot see clearly, one cannot see beyond this pain, one cannot dream 
that any of this has meaning. 44 
Some of us have had to preside and preach at the Easter celebration out of the midst of 
this anguish. To be sure, an advantage of formal religion and a set liturgy is the refuge 
it provides against the chaos of such inner turmoil. But the very distance between what 
the liturgy says and celebrates, and the inner desert of one's soul exacerbates the pain. 

43 Brewi and Brennan (1989), p. 148. 
"AM., p. 211. 

Inner Conversion 

page 35 

The liturgy itself, with its poetics of faith, can become a cry of pain and desolation. 
And is there a word of faith in our heart to speak to the assembly on this, the central 
festival of Christians? Can I celebrate the eucharist with any last shred of faith? 

In the heart of this desert of painful desolation there is a call to conversion. I 
said above that a call to conversion, coming at midlife to someone who has answered 
the earlier call to conversion, does not feel like a call to conversion. Rather, it feels like 
the collapse of one's earlier faith, calling into question one's whole life of faith. The 
reason for this is that in the first journey of life faith must answer the concerns of that 
journey. To the extent that the God of the first journey is served in the interests of what 
one thinks life is about, that god is an idol. Faith in this God will — despite the best the- 
ological training — unconsciously expect a life of faith to 'pay off.' For a parish priest 
the pay-off may be expected in terms of a thriving parish, or a reputation among one's 
peers, or some other (modest, of course) reward for serving well. One does not admit 
these expectations, even to oneself: conscious theology is much too well-schooled to 
own up to any such bargaining. How often have we preached against this very thing! 
But when the roof caves in we discover how angry we get at being deprived of our 

Sullender proposes that an understanding of idolatry can give us a way forward 
at every stage of life. He says that ". . .idolatry offers us a perspective on spiritual health 
that is relevant to every stage of life. At every age people have to choose between faith 
in the living God and faith in false gods." 45 This is certainly true at mid-life, for this is 
a time for reappraising everything and making a new start. It is a time to own up to and 
confess the primitive and self-centred — idolatrous — nature of our expectations. Mid-life 
is a time for enduring the darkness for a while, until a new integration emerges. For 
each individual this necessity will be different, and qualified by each one's experience, 

learnings and choices. As Jung says, 

The transition from morning to afternoon means a reevaluation of the earlier values. 
There comes the urgent need to appreciate the value of the opposite of our former 
ideal, to perceive the error in our former convictions, to recognize the untruth in our 
former truth, to feel how much antagonism and even hatred lay in what until now 

45 Sullender(1989),p. 34. 

Inner Conversion 

page 36 

had passed for love. 46 

This call to further conversion is not in the interest of getting our theology cor- 
rect (at last!), but rather in the interest of living what remains of life for us in a positive 
and creative way. It is hope, and draws us into a future. If, when we get to mid-life we 
tend to look not at how far we have come but at how much time we have left, then faith 
and hope can draw us into living a creative present and future, leaving the past behind 

us to live in the present with the God who lives. 

Each time we experience a new loss, we are faced with a choice between faith in a 
living God that pulls us into the future and faith in false gods that keep us enslaved 
to the past ... By grieving we let go of that past, or that which is now lost, and free 
ourselves to move into the future. There in the future, God waits for us, longing to 
make life good again. 47 

It is very tempting to leave this chapter on that note. It feels nicely rounded off 

with this quotation: an appeal to faith, freedom from enslavement to the past, and hope 

in God's good will leading into a fulfilling future, all this seems to put us into familiar 

and comforting territory at last. We have known and used the terms, the concepts and 

appeal of this passage for many years. After all the turmoil, darkness and desolation, 

do we not have a right to take some comfort in these familiar surroundings? 

I do not say that Sullender is wrong in this passage. That last phrase, however, 
contains an insidious temptation. God, he says, who draws us toward our future, longs 
to "make life good again." Such an expression must draw the attention of our feelings 
backward, toward the fabled 'good old days' when we thought we knew what the pro- 
gram of life was. The promise that life might be "good again" appeals to the remember- 
ed (or fancied) stability of the first journey; it must evoke a sigh of relief as we find 
ourselves once again on familiar ground amid time-worn phrases. 

That rest is not yet, and in our hankering for it too soon, there is the danger of 

settling for 'counterfeit destinations.' 

Enduring loneliness and apparent meaninglessness can wear a person down to the 
point where he or she is ready to settle for anything and cut the journey short In an 

46 Jung, Two Essays in Analytical Psychology, p. 75. Quoted in Brewi and Brennan 
(1989), p. 103. 

47 Sullender (1989), p. 35. 

Inner Conversion 

page 37 

anxious desire to be freed of present commitments and without working through the 
various internal aspects of the struggle, a person may simply choose to escape to 
another place and gain nothing in self-understanding. 48 
Thus there is the need for careful and skillful discernment for a person who is negotia- 
ting among the shoals of this journey. The need is such that one cannot expect to have 
the objectivity necessary to evaluate the choices. With Studzinski , 49 1 urge that a com- 
panion in the spirit is a real necessity on this journey, another soul whom one trusts 
deeply. Only in speaking of one's inner experience with such a trusted person can the 
new dimensions of the second journey dawn upon the imagination. Without some 

glimmering vision of a true future, false choices can hardly be avoided in the present. 

Like the chosen people longing for the fleshpots of Egypt, a person may hanker for 
a previous way of life, even a return to childhood, in the hope that all will be 
blissful again. In other words, there is a real danger of backsliding during these 
times of transition. The pressure of change can bring out the best, but it can also 

bring out the worst in people. 5 ^ 

Jung says that the transition to the second journey means a reevaluation of our 

earlier values, and recognizing the value in the opposites of our earlier values, convic- 
tions and truths. He goes on to say that "not a few" people make the mistake of 'con- 
verting' radically to those opposites — resulting in both personal and social havoc. They 
make themselves just as lop-sided as before, only in the opposite way; and they have 
been known to throw away their professions, marriages, religious convictions and all. 
"It is, of course, a fundamental mistake to imagine that when we see the non-value in 
the value or the untruth in the truth, the value or the truth ceases to exist. It has only be- 
come relative." 51 These are among the issues that urgendy call for careful discernment 
as we make our way forward on this second journey. 

Theologically, the paradise of our mythical beginning is eschatological. It is in 
our future, it is our destination. The promise of return to paradise intends to draw us 

48 Studzinski (1985), p. 19. 


51 Jung, Two Essays in Analytical Psychology, p. 75. Quoted in Brewi and Brennan 
(1989), p. 103. 

Inner Conversion 

page 38 

into a future that bears a relationship to our mythical beginning, a relationship of fulfill- 
ment to promise. The sense of it is that somehow we shall recognize the eschatological 
paradise because it will be the fulfillment of what we have already known long since. 

In the meantime, we travel on as best we can, we do not settle down too soon. 

We shall not cease from exploration 
And the end of all our exploring 
Will be to arrive where we started 
And know the place for the first time. 52 

52 Eliot (1943), p. 39. 

page 39 

Chapter 2. 
Stories and Learnings 

"Midway in the journey of our life I found myself in a dark wood, for the 

straight way was lost" {Inferno, Canto I). Dante's image suggests that many of us ex- 
perience some form of crisis midway in our journey of this life. In our century Carl 
Jung, in his psychiatric practice and research, gives empirical support to Dante's poetic 
intuition. Many people recognize the experience of the 'dark wood' and its personal 
meaning for them. 

Before telling the stories of some of the survey respondents, it will be best to 
recapitulate the mid-life issues we can listen for in these stories. In Chapter 1 we saw 
that the mid-life crisis may make its coming felt in the depth of the dialogue one holds 
between the inner life and the external circumstances in which we live out our lives. 
Some event, strangely striking or stirring or shocking to our inner self, may be the sig- 
nal that our focus on what life is about is changing or needs to change. We are called to 
a new integration of the self, signalled by an event or circumstance that brings us up 
short We may be summoned to the second journey before we even know there is to be 
such a different phase of life. 

As stated in Chapter 1, we may expect the Shadow, or Unconscious self, to 
begin to demand its share of attention, even of respect (the voice of Rodney Danger- 
field!). We will look in vain for these terms in the stories to follow, for they are told 
from the outside: they are stories of souls grappling more with outward events than 
with inner changing. 

One of the common themes of mid-life is the loss of the meaning of life, or a 
change in what we had thought life was about. As Brewi and Brennan put it, "Mid-life 
is . . . 'getting to the top of the ladder and finding that it is against the wrong roof.' 
[This] is the first interpretation of the mid-life crisis of negative feelings. It is also an 
inkling that one is feeling the need to start over again." 1 Such a view is not expressed 

J Brewi and Brennan (1989), pp. 97-8. 

page 40 

in those terms in these stories. Somewhat more continuity is maintained as priests tell 
of their experiences of having to leave something behind and what they learned from 
that. But life did turn out other than expected, and the self's goals did change. One of 
the ways we feel the loss of life's meaning is in losses of other kinds: loss of family 
(including child or spouse through death or divorce), of parents, of work — in short, 
the loss of the meaning to ourselves that we had invested in these. 2 We find this 
theme in these stories. 

Another theme of mid-life is the consciousness of mortality. These stories do 
not describe this in terms of an inner dramatic realization. But we catch resonances of 
the limited nature of time, and of measuring life "not by how far they have come, but 
by how much time they have left." 3 One of the ways we feel mortality at one remove, 
so to say, is in the loss of youth, of health, of family, or of work (especially through 
retirement, often involving loss of status and of friends). 

Another theme of mid-life, sketched in Chapter 1, was the inner need or con- 
straint to settle the past This is a need to own, and own up to, one's past — both the 
evil one has suffered and the evil one has inflicted on others. The very process of res- 
ponding to the survey was an exercise in owning the past, and some respondents touch 
on their own part in what went wrong. I did not ask, in the survey, whether respond- 
ents had kept a journal during the crisis period, but it is probable that some did. Several 
respondents speak of seeking help through counselling or psychotherapy, which nor- 
mally includes some process of setting the past to rest. Several speak of addiction to 
alcohol or drugs, though they do not indicate what kind of pain the addiction tried to 
numb. 4 For those in the 12-Step recovery program, Step 4 is to make "a searching 
and fearless moral inventory of ourselves," Step 5 is to "[admit] to God, to ourselves, 
and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs," and Step 8 is to make "a 
list of all persons we had harmed, and [become] willing to make amends to them 

2 See Sullender (1989), passim. 

3 Sullender (1989), p. 43. 

4 Recall that Schaef and Fassel state that "by taking a drug or drink, addicts believe they 
can avoid dealing with what they are feeling, thinking, needing, wanting, or knowing." 
(Schaef and Fassel (1988), p. 66.) 

page 41 

all." 5 In other words, settling the past, including making actual amends where pos- 
sible, is part of the recovery from addiction. 

Finally, as the self undergoes or undertakes the process of integration that cha- 
racterizes the second journey, one's mode of relating as a professional person to the 
external world of society becomes disoriented and requires revamping. For many of us 
who were ordained a generation ago, there was & persona of the priest that to a large 
extent ruled our relationships with our parishioners and with many others as well. In 
mid-life I, and some of these respondents, have found that to be dysfunctional, and 
have sought to find a more honest and workable persona. 

The purpose of this chapter is, first, to tell the stories of some respondents to 
the survey, in their own words. I have edited these to some extent, to maintain their 
anonymity (I promised them that), and in a few cases to make them more readable. 
After the stories, there will be some reflections on helping clergy during times of crisis. 

I. Stories 

Some of us don't think we have had a mid-life crisis, or haven't thought about 

it in those terms. I honor what they say about themselves. One writes: 

I may be living in a fool's paradise, but I have not had, at least in my estima- 
tion, a real crisis in ministry. At least not one that has made me change my life dra- 
matically. There have, of course, been bumps in the road of life and ministry and 
there have been times I have wondered if I made the correct choices along the way. 

I suppose I have been most fortunate choosing a woman who has a knack of 
heading off a crisis before it becomes an unmanageable mess. She has forced me to 
look hard at situations and to think them through which may be why I have been 
able to avoid the major crisis. 

This is not to say it doesn't happen. . . but I have been fortunate. 

As I stated in Chapter 1, everybody has a mid-life transition, but it is not a crisis 
for everybody. The transition takes the path dictated by the person's history and state; if 
there are blocks to the person's journey of integration, a crisis may come as the way to 
call attention to the blockage and get past it. Value judgments such as 'good' and 'bad,' 
'healthy-minded' and 'sick-minded' are to be avoided. I am glad of this man's good 
fortune, and wish him continued perseverance and prosperity. The quality of his marri- 

Slbid., p. 227. 


page 42 

age relationship is of great value, and he knows it 

Another sees not one crisis but a series. He suffered two periods of burnout, 
and struggled with the effects of alcohol on himself and his family. He found that 
bishops are sometimes prey to social fear, and sometimes give helpful advice. And he 

has known some of the anger of Job: 

This may sound a bit obtuse, but I can not see, in my ministry, any one crisis. 
A series might be better, learning to open up to my wife and children, considering 
that I was not raised in such a situation. Alcohol was a factor, having been raised in 
a culture that saw alcohol as necessary. Coming to grips with the possibility that I 
too could go down the tube. Throughout this my wife and children were very sup- 
portive, and our marriage was strengthened because of a new openness that occur- 
red. The crisis that comes to mind was when I had to tell the congregation that I 
served that my son of a previous marriage (married at 18, divorced at 21) was com- 
ing to visit us. (I must admit that my bishop, when I began my ministry told me that 
I must never talk about this, when this event was to begin my search for whole- 
ness.) The response of the congregation was positive. I could free myself from the 
guilt that I had felt. 

I have gone through two periods of burn-out — where I felt unable to function. 
Both times were depressions. I learned through these that I needed to take care of 

myself. About four years ago I went to a psychotherapist in for two years 

which really helped me to get in touch with where I was. Again, I should say that 
my primary support was from my wife and family. The bishop also kept tabs on 
my progress to some degree. 

At the time of each crisis, there was a sense of failure, powerlessness, futility, 
like being at the end of the rope. As far as my professional life it made me see that 
what I was was more vocational in the real sense of the word. The facade of 
'Priesthood' and the image it portrayed, were false. I was a human being, a child of 
God, called into the ministry of His Church because of my humanness not to be an 
image but to serve with His People. To seek the Truth is much different than simple 
honesty. I had to come to grips with my own pre-conceptions, and see them as they 
were in reality. As to the professional way of looking at things, it changed because 
as I was seeing my inadequacy, so too, I was able to relate empathetically rather 
than sympathetically, to the real needs of ministry. 

As to my prayer/spiritual life, paradoxically it changed as I placed my life in a 
loving God. God definitely took over and prayed for me while I was in my times of 
despair. That may sound strange, yet it is true. My life in prayer took on a whole 
new attitude, away from form to substance. I came away with the idea that prayer 
was a way of living. During those times I felt abandoned, yet I knew his presence. 
I felt like Job in his words of defiance at his friends' rationalizing, Damn it! 'I 
know that my redeemer lives . . . ' Anyway, I was humbled and found God's grace 
through it all. 

I would have to say that the focus was on meaning. What I often saw was a 


page 43 

church that did not practice what it preached. The gospel message was saying one 
thing, and the church was merrily doing its own thing. The gospel was being sacri- 
ficed for causes. Also there were also self-esteem problems as well as self-care 

I have used Myers-Briggs, and this did help me to understand a lot about my- 
self being an IOTP. What helped most was the 12 Step program of AA, not just as 
steps, but as seeing it as a major system for living and getting the right focus on 
life. It is very biblical and seen as a spiritual discipline is to the point. My wife and I 
took advantage of a Marriage Encounter in the early '70' s, as well as Cursillo, both 
as participant and leaders. We also have been influenced by a positive charismatic 
element of the Church. All have been enlightening and important to us through the 

As far as what I have done since about these issues, I no longer fret over them, 
many were resolved when I learned to accept my life as it is. There are things I can 
do, and things I cannot do that are better given to others. I take care of myself, and 
know the danger signs when I should seek help. 

In regard to crisis management, the Bishop told all the clergy that it might be a 
good idea to seek psychoanalysis. Which I did. My wife encouraged me to seek 
help and this was very positive. I felt the Bishop was interested in his clergy as 
people, so I really couldn't say which was his real interest, me or the institution. 

The only real suggestion I could give you in counselling clergy in crisis is to 
listen to them and help them sort out their lives. I am presendy doing this with one 
of our new woman clergy who is going through a crisis. To help others to tell their 
story and to help them get to the truth demands much listening, and helping them 
define where they are in life. What the troubled cleric needs is encouragement to 
deal with their issues, and see them for what they are. I personally use the 12 steps 
as the basis for counseling. 

The chronological order of some of the incidents in this story is not always 
clear, but we catch the theme of settling the past in his coming to grips with alcohol and 
opening up to his family, in the incident when his son came to visit, and in the course 
of psychotherapy. The periods of burnout, and the feelings of "failure, powerlessness, 
futility, like being at the end of the rope," signal that the ways and goals we had are no 
longer satisfactory, that a new journey is in progress. The breakdown of the persona is 
clearly stated for once ("The facade of 'Priesthood' and the image it portrayed, were 
false"), and that realization led to a new, more integrated and wholesome mode of being 
present to others as a minister. There is in this story the resonance of a good deal of 
spiritual suffering, of a 'dark night' in which there is faith in the midst of uncertainty. 

This man has grown through his trials, to become a mature minister who can be 


page 44 

both compassionate and patiently helpful to God's people. His ministry to other clergy 
is something we can especially appreciate — the more so if I say he ministers in an out- 
of-the-way part of the world where most clergy do not stay long and those who are 
seasoned in ministry are few. 

Some of us began our ministry careers after some years in another fields — we 
used to call them 'late vocations.' That has some advantages, and the Church seems to 
favor this now, perhaps partly because church employment is so uncertain. It also 
means that some of the hard experiences of the beginning years of ministry may come 
during the mid-life period, and acquire some flavors of the mid-life transition. This 

respondent was past the age of 40 when this situation came about 6 

I don't want to belabor or overstate the case of working with a passive- 
aggressive Rector. It is murder to wake up one day and realize that every pat on the 
back, from a man whom you trust, is an attempt to find a soft spot into which to 
stick the knife. The lies and deceit. The failure to connect and communicate. I was 
ill-prepared to see it through. I also am such a hopeless optimist I just knew it 
would get better — it didn't. Bereft of good judgement, I resigned. I must add, the 
Bishop was in constant touch with me throughout, and very supportive. He assist- 
ed me in finding an interim [position] and when the opportunity arose to begin a 
new mission, he supported me in that endeavor. I also had the support of my clergy 
colleagues who knew the situation. In addition, my wife and kids were super sup- 
portive. I never had to fear economic suffering, since my prior profession pays 
double anything I can make in the church. That was a Godsend. All of it a very 
humbling experience and one which, in hindsight, I can thank God for. But it's not 
the best way to learn!! 

a) I learned I had to allow more time just to be and not do. I needed quiet, 
healing space. I had to learn patience and to trust God to bring me out of the burned 
up places. I had to trust the community of faith to reach out to me and minister to 
me. It is easy for clergy to give, much harder for them to receive. This giving and 
receiving needs to be held in balance. 

b) I felt cheated early on. After all, I had worked so hard and given up a lot to 
become a priest It was demeaning to have to go back into my former profession. 
But I actually enjoyed the work and it was great therapy to be so affirmed in what I 
had always done well. 

c) I never blamed God for my dilemma. But I deepened my prayer life. I dis- 
covered I had been pretty dry and stale — mild depression will do that to you! I al- 

6 The listing by letters — a., b., c, etc. — in this and some other responses, refers to the 
questions in the survey under heading number 3 in Part II. I have edited the responses 
that refer to this so that the reader will not necessarily need to see what the question was. 
See Appendix for the full listing. 


page 45 

so got back into regular exercise and that was a big help. 

d) I had to focus on self-esteem and self-care. I was so deeply enmeshed in the 
intrigue, I didn't realize how burned out I had become. I found my eyelids in spasm 
— if that happens now it is an early warning signal! ! 

e) I think the Myers-Briggs stuff was best for me at the time. I also had to recall 
I had the best possible profile of health on the MMPI from my CPE days. ... So I 
knew my basic instincts were correct and could be trusted. I had to look at the areas 
of Myers-Briggs where weakness could lead to trouble — sure enough, I fell in the 

f) I committed to parish renewal and revitalization, including a Doctor of Mini- 
stry Program out of McCormick Seminary in Chicago (Presbyterian). It has been 
fabulous and given me life skills which are integrated into the fabric of parish life. I 
also have participated heavily in Congregational Development, the NCD work being 
sponsored by Arlin Rothauge of Executive Board Development Office. Exciting, 
rejuvenating and some of the hardest work I've every done, but I love it. Lots of 

g) No formal intervention, just lots of folks helping out when the shit hit the fan 
and slightly before. I must say the Bishop tended to want to preserve the institu- 
tional aspects but also wanted me healed. That must be tough for caring bishops! I 
only knew the status quo was a big problem and was largely responsible for lots of 
my problems. I also recognized how invested I had become in the Status Quo and 
had tried not to rock the boat by rowing like hell. That was a bad choice. Why do 
we insist on thinking we can fix dysfunction when what we need to do is focus on 
self care!? 

The feeling of being cheated is one of the themes of mid-life, exacerbated here 
by the respondent having spent much energy, time, and money to answer the call to 
ministry as an ordained person. He does not say so, but his decision to seek ordination 
may have been part of his entrance to mid-life — seeking a meaning for his life other 
than he had already built and that was now feeling unsatisfactory. He "never blamed 
God" — but doesn't say whether he is aware of the ambiguities inherent in the situation. 
Learning "to allow more time just to be and not do" is a way of acknowledging that the 
program of life is changing from the activism of the first journey. "It is easy for clergy 
to give, much harder for them to receive" is an insight that many of us need to remem- 
ber frequently. 

An alternative way of earning one's bread is a luxury that many of us don't 
have. (One respondent noted that, having lost his church employment, he lives "on the 
edge of economic bankruptcy" — a taste of mortality that none of us wants, and that we 


page 46 

will never forget if we have known it!) We may — as this respondent does — sympathize 
with the bishop in this story, who apparently felt powerless to deal straightforwardly 
with a rector who was causing great trouble to others. The possibility suggests itself 
that the rector was himself in the midst of fighting a mid-life crisis, perhaps frightened 
at the loss of his youth, perhaps feeling threatened by a younger colleague, and in pain. 
At least this respondent enjoyed the support of his family and colleagues, and of the 
bishop in finding new employment. He has gone on to ministry elsewhere, and makes 
self-care and spiritual discipline a priority. 

Here is another story of a curacy situation where the rector and curate (and the 
parish) needed to negotiate their needs and expectations but did not. This respondent is 
still too close to the situation to have the perspective on it that the last respondent has. 

Still, she says she is past the crisis and hopes for a new job, and I wish her well. 

I was hired as a lay DRE, with the parish knowing that diaconal ordination was 
just a year off. The half-time position was "used up" by education tasks and after 
ordination, the diaconal, and then priestly, tasks of pastoral and liturgical duties 
were simply tacked on with no consideration given to the extra time needed and no 
recognition to the fact that these were, indeed, right and proper things for me to be 
doing. The parish acknowledged my change in status and in 'being' but the rector 
didn't and the budget didn't. So I was stuck feeling un-used, unfulfilled and unsure 
of my calling. The family was already under stress due to our daughter's anorexia, 
so my insecurity both mirrored and escalated the family's insecurity. 

My mid-life crisis began with the call to ordained ministry and seminary and the 
changes that brought; was heightened to fever-pitch through the 3+ years of my 
daughter's anorexia and seems to be coming down the other side as I begin to look 
for a new job! 

a) This crisis has formed me as a more prayer[ful] person, a person who looks 
more carefully into her own actions and motives, a person who has developed bet- 
ter resources for bridging crisis 'gaps.' 

b) Professionally, I realize how very green I am, but how many strengths I have to 
use in God's service. I've clarified what issues I will attend to first and what some 
of my professional/personal priorities are. 

c) Prayer is paramount as I take care of myself and occupies more of my waking 

d) I must take care of my self — physically, mentally, emotionally, intellectually, 
and spiritually. 

e) As an INTJ I finally have a way of describing myself to others that they can 
grasp but as a female INTJ I'm rare and have to work to find soul-mates in minis- 
try. But they're there! 


page 47 

f) I'm continuing to apply the lessons I've learned through professional help 
(courses, counseling, etc), beginning a job search, meeting informally with friends 
in ministry and looking for and basking in joy wherever I find it! 

We can hear in this story some resonances of mid- life crisis, as sketched in 
Chapter 1. She says her mid-life crisis began with the call to ordained ministry, but 
doesn't elaborate on how she felt or viewed that. In this story we hear the feelings of 
insecurity and loss of control over one's life, both in her feeling not appreciated and in 
her parental concern for her daughter's anorexia. I conjecture that the daughter's health 
problem brought on parental feelings of guilt — owning too much of it, feeling guilty for 
real or imagined 'neglect,' and so on. She says she has had group peer support as she 
began ministry; I hope she also had help through therapy together with her daughter. 

Another respondent, also a woman, had a much better than average curacy, and 

then later found herself mired in problems in the church and her responses to them. 

Arriving in , I was unprepared for . . . the expectations that had been raised. 

While I could offer gifts in preaching and liturgical renewal, I had no experience in 
Southern expectations of untiring hospitality, hugs at the Church door, and a con- 
stant exterior congeniality regardless of my true emotions. I was sinking fast. Ne- 
ver to be one to experience the honeymoon that some clergy experience, I was 
however, not prepared for the deep negativity that was expressed on the very first 

... I was lonely, fearful, and quickly sinking into depression. At the suggestion 
of my spiritual director, I sought help from a therapist who had done a lot of work 
with women religious. She was superb in many ways, and I developed a very close 
bonding — transference, as they would say. She eventually terminated our time to- 
gether because she left her practice to become a medical missionary. . .. This was a 
serious crisis point in my life, since I was working out so many things with her. In 
fact, her leaving opened terrible wounds of rejection and abandonment that were old 
and deep and sore. At her recommendation, I continued therapy with someone else. 
He has proven to be a God-send in many ways. Because of her, I was able to 
allow the wounds to be revealed, because of him, I am on the road to real healing. 

Through this experience, I have become more loving of myself, more forgiv- 
ing, and generous. I have learned to recognize my needs, and how to respond to 
them by setting boundaries for myself. In particular, I've been able to separate 'me' 
from 'you,' thus allowing the distance that makes it possible for me to identify 
things like projection. In the past, I received everything that anyone sent my way. 
I've also come to see that the Church will never be the mother that I didn't have in 
my youth — in fact, she's more the mother that I did have: consuming, insensitive, 
all-encompassing. The best mother I'm ever going to have is me. 

These are hard lessons, and we all have had to learn them — though not always 


page 48 

with as much suffering as this. This is clearly a woman with great gifts, and willing to 
offer herself with her gifts to the service of God in the church. She had the courage and 
perseverance to seek help from therapy, and has come out much more mature and sea- 
soned. On one reading, "the best mother I'm ever going to have is me" feels very sad 
because, again, the church has let one of us down — in fact nearly destroyed her. On the 
other hand, it is a declaration of self-care that augurs well for present and future minis- 
try — so long as she keeps it a part of her dialogue with God in prayer. She is clearly in 
a better place for ministry. 

One of the mid-life issues is the loss of family, and coming to terms with lone- 
liness. Although the following story seems to come from the young side of mid-life, it 

illustrates this theme. 

The particular crisis I have experienced in my life as an ordained person is that 
of divorce and the beginning of a new marriage. I had married at a relatively young 
age (22), and my wife and I encountered a variety of problems early on. I preferred 
to not see a variety of things, but eventually my wife and I entered therapy as a cou- 
ple. This eventually developed into individual therapy and then I entered into a 
group therapy arrangement as well. 

My wife and I found ourselves growing, but it was steadily further apart. We 
attempted a change of locale and various devices to 'start over,' and failing them all 
went through a so-called 'no fault' divorce process (one year delay from filing to 
declaration in the state we were located in) There were no children from the marri- 
age, and consequently there has been no ongoing communication since the divorce 
finalized in 1982. 

In terms of myself, I had to cope for the first time with real 'aloneness' — no 
school or seminary community ready-made, no functioning marriage, a sense of 
being adrift and lacking meaning in my daily work. My career was in 'neutral' as 
we had moved from one place to another for her employment opportunity, and I 
was serving again as an assisting priest. But this time, my 'boss' was only a few 
years my senior, and a bachelor, and while certainly not actively giving me any 
trouble, he was likewise unsure what to do to be of help, and could not combat the 

My battle with loneliness took the form of adopting a dysfunctional sleep/wake 
cycle and a peculiar eating pattern. Eventually, this resulted in medical problems of 
a serious nature, medication, and a recovery process (although I was able to conti- 
nue working throughout and was never hospitalized). 

It was as I was coming out of that time period that a new relationship develo- 
ped, which eventually led to a 'happy' stress period... namely, new marriage, move 
to my first congregation as Rector, and the start of a family in the new location, all 


page 49 

in 12 months. 

The resumption of a family life pattern, and the beginning of having children as 
part of my world as a person, has inaugurated an extended period of finding life 
more fulfilling than ever before. I am, at age 41, still basically at that point, with the 
professional need to consider where I might next go from this current parish com- 
ing along in the next 18 months to 2 years (roughly, as the process is of course 
highly unpredictable!). 

In this story the divorce made the occasion for facing one aspect of mid- life: the 
"sense of being adrift and lacking meaning in my daily work." Some people do begin 
their mid-life transition in their thirties, especially when some stressful event like the 
break-down of marriage triggers it. I am glad that a new happiness in marriage has 
blossomed and that he "[finds] life more fulfilling than ever before." The second jour- 
ney of life may or may not require more periods of tribulation. 

Another respondent also has a story of divorce, together with a great deal of 

stress in the parish community caused by some wicked parishioners. 

The year was 1974, 1 had been in a parish in the mid-west that started out 
poorly. The search committee had lied to me about what the parish wanted, and I 
had lied to them about intending to go to Cursillo. Then three years into the ministry 
my marriage was falling apart — it had always been rocky. Also a couple began their 
crusade to get rid of me. She was outside of my office daily — yelling and scream- 
ing about the latest awful thing. He was constantly on the phone reporting his in- 
vestigations of his latest imagined misdeed. He would come to Vestry meeting and 
yell and scream at the Vestry and me, and then go home and call everyone he knew 
about the awful way the Vestry treated him. I lived with this hell for three years. 
My wife left the parish after her own outburst over sexism in the liturgy. My mar- 
riage was dead then, but I did not recognize it 

During this period the parish, vestry, bishop, fellow clergy, seminary, presi- 
ding bishop, diocese all did nothing. The bishop would get crazy letters from this 
guy and complain to me about how awful it was — and then turn around and do 
nothing to help me — he was afraid of this guy I think, and I was too. 

I learned a hell of a lot from that experience, all by myself. The Church offered 
zero help. I learned how to handle complaints — going public — resolving conflict 
immediately. When I did supply work I discover people responding to me posi- 

My marriage ended in divorce — my wife left me against my will, without 
seeking any help, and it is the best thing that could have ever happened to me. She 
set me free from her anger at the Church, God and me (no connection between me 
and God). 

a. [This crisis] meant to me that I had been flailing against the wrong straw 
figures. I had to experience healing of everything in me. I had to start over again to 


page 50 

see who my faith was in, what was important to me — and it has been a wonderful 
journey that has led to a happy marriage, experiences in Africa, successful ministry, 
and the knowledge of how to do my job. 

b. The crises made me feel incompetent 

c. [My spiritual life] was lousy during the crises, I had no spiritual director. It is 
great now. 

d. [The issues in my life that the crisis compelled me to focus on was] Jesus 
Christ and the Holy Spirit. 

e. [The frame(s) of reference that helped me understand myself and my suffer- 
ing were] Myers-Briggs, Servant Leadership, Spiritual Direction, Eucharist, a 
community of love. 

f. I am married to a wonderful woman. I entered therapy. I attended healing 
services. I pray constantly, Jesus is my Lord. 

g. The 1977 intervention was solely to benefit the institution. 

This respondent did not state his age, and 1977 may have been early for mid- 
life. Again, a stressful set of circumstances led him to his reflection that "[this crisis] 
meant to me that I had been flailing against the wrong straw figures. I had to experience 
healing of everything in me. I had to start over again to see who my faith was in, what 
was important to me. ..." These are common experiences of mid-life, of reassessment 
of practically everything that has significance and importance for us. 

"I learned a hell of a lot from that experience, all by myself is an angry state- 
ment, indicting the church for its ineffectiveness. Clearly, this was an experience of 
protracted suffering, yet the anger still evident in the telling of this story raises a ques- 
tion for me whether this man has quite finished with settling the past. (I note, however, 
that another respondent chose to write me a letter rather than answer the survey, be- 
cause "I perceive [the questionnaire] encourages me to bitch and blame, which is not 
especially helpful. I bitch and blame easily and readily, for the most part" So I may 
have led at least one respondent into that temptation!) 

Another respondent relates some discouraging experiences at the hands of the 

church, both laity and bishops: 

I can share with you two crises. . . 

After about seven years as rector of a pastoral size parish, I began to have some 
serious conflicts with lay leaders over the amount of emphasis which I placed on 
outreach. For about a year I felt myself to be frequently under attack by a small 
group of very vocal parishioners. My wife felt that she could no longer have a 
friendly relationship with the wives of some of these men and avoided them as 


page 51 

much as possible. Parishioners who were supportive of me also came [under] 

I went to the bishop and the deployment officer and asked for help in finding 
another parish in the diocese. I told them that I was not interested in leaving the 
diocese, since it had been my home since second grade and I had a strong attach- 
ment to its clergy and lay people. Over a period of two years, my name was sub- 
mitted to four or five parishes in the diocese, but only once was I called for an in- 
terview. Towards the end of that period, I sensed that there was no commitment on 
the part of the bishop to working to keep me there. Since we were, and continue to 
be, close friends, I never saw this as a personal rejection, but only as the product of 
a decision that the "marketplace" should prevail and that the bishop shouldn't inter- 

At that point, I allowed my name to be submitted for two parishes outside the 
diocese. In both cases, I was interviewed, but not called. Both processes brought 
important changes in my work, however. One search committee insisted that they 
be allowed to talk with lay leaders in my parish and this produced some good con- 
versations later about the possibility that I might move on. The other parish was, in 
many ways, ideal, but I came away from the interview with a sense that parish min- 
istry was not appropriate for me at that point in my life, a conclusion which mem- 
bers of the search committee reached as well. 

Within a few months, I accepted an invitation to serve on a diocesan staff. One 
question which this experience has raised for me is what value is there to a diocese 
in working to keep priests. Even though it might have been inappropriate for me to 
have been called to any other parish in that diocese, what might the bishop and his 
staff have done to help me to stay in the parish and deal with the conflicts? Might 
not the Church have benefitted by helping me and the leadership of the parish move 
on to a new chapter? I don't have clear answers, but my sense is that even with the 
best will, dioceses have not provided the kinds of resources needed for productive 
long term rectorates. 

My second crisis came this year when my bishop decided, with minimal con- 
sultation, to restructure his staff and let two priests go. In my case, he also had 
some dissatisfaction with my work, but had never shared it with me in my annual 
performance review. While I have been able to find work as an interim, my future 
direction is very unclear. When I left parish work three years ago, I had no inten- 
tion of returning. Even though I am enjoying my work as an interim, I am not sure 
that I want to return to parish work permanently. I would prefer a diocesan posi- 
tion, but I am wary about taking a job which could end so suddenly and without 
warning. My wife has had a real crisis of faith because of this and it has added to 
our adolescent daughter's already growing disillusionment with the Church. I have 
felt at moments freed by the bishop's decision to explore employment options out- 
side the Church, especially since my family would like to stay in the area, but I am 
aware of some of the financial factors which would encourage me to seek employ- 
ment within the Church, e.g., the CPF and the fact that at 45 I'm paid a lot better in 
the Church than I would be starting out in some new career.. . . 


page 52 

I for one resonate with the disillusionment and discouragement expressed in this 
story. In clergy gatherings one often hears expressions of cynicism about the way the 
Church wastes talent and experience; those expressions come easily from the lips of 
those who are employed, but when one is jobless it is a frightful and urgent and mad- 
dening matter. This is a thoughtful and able priest who has run afoul of the church's 
often-dysfunctional employment 'marketplace.' Has he done his mid-life work of be- 
ginning a new integration? Perhaps it is only just beginning with this last crisis, and he 
will have to pay more attention to inward reflection and less to 'the system' and other 
external circumstances. 

Another respondent writes that he found his bishop to be very supportive: 

My relationship with my lovely and competent secretary moved from friendship 
to something more than that We were both vulnerable. She was unhappy in her 
marriage. I filled a vacuum. I truly cared deeply for her and it almost wrecked my 
marriage. However, we terminated the relationship, both realizing what it was do- 
ing and the consequences for me. She is now married and is very happy. She lives 
in another state. 

Clergy are human just like everyone else. My wife and I have worked very hard 
at reclaiming our relationship and our marriage. We both had and have a deep com- 
mitment to each other — that is what almost tore me apart Truly, no one can serve 
two masters. Our marriage is stronger and more insightful now. Also, we appreci- 
ate what we have and almost lost. We both believe that God heard our prayers for 
all of us involved. 

Because of this experience, I am very much less judgmental with regard to the 
personal and emotional struggles people have, able to deal pastorally and not judg- 
mentally with human failings. 

What the experience of finding myself in the 'dark wood' meant. Well, I cer- 
tainly came to feel a deep empathy for an understanding of those experiencing emo- 
tional crisis and spiritual desolation and despair. I kept repeating over and over 
Henry Newman's hymn 'Lead, kindly light, amid the encroaching gloom, lead thou 
me on. The way is dark and I am far from home. Lead thou me on o'er moor and 
fen until the night is gone. And with the dawn, those Angel faces smile, which I 
have loved long since, and lost awhile.' 

Professional life. I would have to say, looking back now, that I felt isolated. It 
wasn't, obviously, something one could share with friends and colleagues. It was 
such a very, very heavy burden to bear and carry. 

On the other hand, I felt a sense of oneness with those who had experienced the 
death and loss of a loved one: 'I know how you feel.' No, until you have experi- 
enced the loss of someone you love, you don't know how that person feels. So, I 
came to a deeper appreciation for and understanding of the Incarnation. At some 


page 53 

point I realized that far from abandoning me, Jesus had taken my pain and the pain 
of those involved on Himself, that he shared our brokenness and anguish. Just 
knowing that helped. Now I can personally witness to and share with others in 
counseling situations that trust in God can heal us and make us whole again, not 
magically, but in community with those who love and accept us, and in community 
with our Lord through personal prayer and worship. 

[My prayer/spiritual life] was strengthened, deepened and made more genuine 
and human, I think. 

Life issues. Certainly more honesty about and acceptance of my personal vul- 
nerability and my personal need for affection and satisfying personal relationships. 
Now in pre-marriage counseling I stress the need to nurture and take care of the re- 
lationship, not to take the intimate part of marriage for granted, to be intentional 
about it. That has been a very positive result. 

The other issues that came to the fore were self-esteem and self-care. I learned 
that how I valued myself didn't have to be, or even should be, a mirror of another 
person's response. Yes, we need to be needed and need to be loved, but not in a 
dependent way. We shouldn't depend on another to make us feel good about our- 
selves. We have to, in the best sense, love ourselves before we can be truly giving 
in an interpersonal relationship. I had intensive analysis over a period of a year to 
help me work that through. That process is never-ending, but at least now I'm a- 
ware of the issues and am working on them. 

Frame of reference. I did go to the Continuing Education program at Virginia 
Seminary in Alexandria. That was excellent. There I learned to do the reflection 
piece which enables you to tell your life's story, to put it together and identify your 
skills and gifts, etc. That was marvellous. Also, we did the Myers-Briggs in depth 
and that led to a greater depth of personal understanding. 

What are you doing intentionally. In my marriage: continuing to develop deeper 
friendship with my wife, sharing things with her and doing things together. In pro- 
fessional life: taking advantage of continuing education opportunities, colleague 
support groups, spiritual friends, a men's Bible study group I meet with, etc. 

Intervention. My bishop was extremely personally supportive of me, my family 
and of the other person involved. He was non-judgmental and very caring of us all. 
We know that he cared for us and was, in his way, hurting with us and for us as 
we struggled to work through that difficult time. 

Because he knew that we were each getting counseling and seeking help, etc., 
there was no intervention as such on his part. I was always very honest with him 
and appreciated his support and caring for us. He was truly a pastoral bishop in ev- 
ery sense of the word. He trusted us and believed in us, each of us. And that made 
all the difference. 

If mid-life is the beginning of a journey of integration, it is about incarnation — a 
putting together spirit and body, with all the associations both of those entities carry. A 
part of this man's journey has been the discovery of his emotional self, and the fright- 


page 54 

ening realization that in his emotions he is vulnerable. He is a man who had stock in 
being intellectually on top of things (in another part of the survey he said, "We never 
discussed personal, emotional vulnerability in seminary. So I thought I was prepared to 
handle anything. OR, I never thought that I could or would get emotionally involved.") 
but in this emotional entanglement he learned something priceless for himself, for his 
marriage, and for his ministry. 

Another respondent has a more upbeat and cheerful attitude than many of us as 

he gives an account of some pretty dark times in his life. 

There have been three times in my life which I call crisis times. At the age of 35 
I experienced a vocational crisis, not of faith, but really one of job. It looked for a 
time that being a faithful layperson was a better way to carry out my baptismal 
ministry. Discussion with an understanding vestry sent me to Eden Seminary for a 
D.Min. That helped me sort out the vocational question. 

At the age of 42, following the '79 General Convention I was wiped out, spi- 
ritually dead, and told the bishop so. He suggested a few weeks at a Jesuit Retreat 
Center in Pennsylvania. It turned out to be my religious experience and has kept me 
on a somewhat disciplined life of prayer and reflection ever since. 

The last crisis came in 1989 when our daughter was killed in an automobile ac- 
cident. My father had died just a year earlier. Her death was followed by the death 
of my younger brother from a heart attack and then just six months later my mother 
died. The three-year period from 1989 to 1991 was a spiritual struggle. 

It was not that I lost my faith, but my theology, what I believed about God and 
how God worked, was really challenged. Again, an understanding vestry, parish, 
and staff, a sympathetic bishop, a great wife and family, were my strengths. Of 
course, [my wife] and I were really tested by [our daughter's] death, but that only 
reinforced how much in love we really were — and we have come out the stronger 
for it. 

So, life has been good at times, and a bitch other times. As my youngest son 
put it after [my daughter's] death: 'sometimes life sucks, Dad.' 

I know that there have been times when I flirted a bit too much, drank too 
much, ate too much, but as the guy said in My Fair Lady, 'with a little bit of luck' I 
either didn't get caught, or didn't get killed. Since I'm an EMTJ, if I had been 'pure' 
I would have been more boring boring [sic] than I am already. 

There have been no crisis management experiences in my life. I'm a successful 
humble, country parish priest trying to figure out what to do for the next ten to 
twelve years. I may go to the Northeast Career Center in Princeton for some guid- 
ance, or go the individual counselor route. I am talking that out with friends right 

I rejoice for this man's good fortune in being among people who were steadfast 


page 55 

in their friendship for him. That has not been the case with many of us. Still, I suspect 
that he is the maker of some of his good luck. That is, he has been willing to accept 
friendship from others, and willing to open his heart to their good will. Beginning with 
the Vestry with whom he discussed his vocational doubts, he has taken others into his 
confidence and accepted their help in response. I admire that, especially in view of the 
risk it involves. He continues with that, discussing with friends what he should do with 
the years left to him. I admire his creativity in living his life. 

Nevertheless, he has had a hard course in death and grief, with four deaths of 
loved ones within three years. This encounter with mortality and the loss of his youth 
are not described in their full emotional weight — it is in keeping with his temperament 
to describe it as he has done — but we can hear in his story the echoes of suffering. 

Another respondent describes an encounter with the death of his young son. 
This happened when the respondent was in his early thirties. He doesn't count it as a 
'dark wood' experience, but I include it here because there have been many good things 

resulting from the crisis. 

The crisis for me and the family came about when our five-year-old son deve- 
loped nephritis (kidney disease) — now twenty years ago. We were fortunate in 
having good medical help and both my wife and I felt we did everything we could 
possibly do from a medical point of view. The illness, in its extreme phase, did not 
last long — though it seemed interminable at the time. Andrew died in February 

Many consequences came from that event, some of them still going on in our 
family. My wife and I had a strong relationship before and it was made immeasu- 
rably stronger through the difficulties of our son's illness and death. Our faith 
deepened. Our compassion and prayer life took on new dimensions. Our sense of 
God's healing power, of God's closeness increased. My preaching took on a more 
pastoral quality. I became involved in the development of a child-abuse prevention 
program and my community involvement centered in parenting issues for more than 
fifteen years. The raising of our other two children was changed. Issues surround- 
ing Andrew's death are still part of our family life. 

Most of all we were surrounded by a wonderful, loving church family, of both 
laity and clergy. We came out of the immediate time of shock and grief stronger as a 
family and in our faith. 

. . .The crisis surrounding the death of our child was fairly early on in my min- 
istry and in our married life. I was ministered to by my bishop, by other clergy, by 
the laity, by others in my family in remarkable ways, for which I am eternally 
grateful. It deepened my prayer and spiritual life and allowed new dimensions to 


page 56 

my pastoral ministry. It helped me focus on family issues, and on the value of life 
in all people. 

The best frame of reference during all of that time — and since — has been the 
Scriptures and the Prayer Book. Other frames of reference that are mentioned like 
Myers-Briggs and 12-Step programs, have all been helpful to me, but none have 
become the cornerstone of my ministry — or my life — like the Bible and Prayer 
Book. Issues surrounding this time are still around — even twenty years later. They 
turn up in our other two children, in so many young people dying of AIDS, in other 
pastoral issues. I feel the pain still — thankfully. I rejoice in God's love — 

Finally, as I asked others to do, I make my own statement. Taking account of 

my temperament — acknowledged in Chapter 1 — I will try not to be too maudlin. 

In my story it is hard to know exacdy where to begin. The event that occasioned 
my beginning to realize that I was bored with my parish seems to have been when 
some recent-comers went on with their journeys — which involved their moving a- 
way. I was glad they were getting on, and sad they were leaving; but I was left with 
the parish, and felt it was hopeless. I did the only thing I knew — I tried harder. 

As is often said nowadays, men raised and acculturated in American society 
have a built-in difficulty with their feelings to begin with. We find it difficult to re- 
cognize our own feelings — especially uncomfortable feelings — and we tend to look 
for ways to ignore them or to 'fix' them. With some of us, intellectual analysis is 
used as a way of coping with feelings. 

As it happened, although I was pretty conversant — glib, maybe — on the subject 
of mid-life crisis (and thought I was managing it fairly well) the first item on my 
unconscious agenda was that I must live in my feeling. My parish was not prosper- 
ing as I had hoped it would as the fruit of my work over some sixteen years, and I 
had become bored and depressed. At the same time I was suffering the grief of our 
nest emptying out, and soon was added to that more grief at the death of my father. 

(As Sullender suggests, both the emptying of the nest and the loss of elderly 
parents involve grief for the loss of youth. 7 It is not simply that the children, 
whose care and nurture have been a major concern of the family over nearly two 
decades, have now gone on to pursue their independent lives. It is not simply that 
the parent one has known as child and adult over many years has died. Both events 
usually happen at the time in one's life when the vigor of youth is on the wane, and 
conspire to signal the passing of one phase of life and entry upon a new phase of 
life. The attendant grief for the loss of youth compounds these other griefs.) 

I was doing the best I knew how, to acknowledge my feelings and live in them. 
But more was required, it seems. So then I had an accident in my car — luckily a 
one-car accident — on ice, in which my car became a total wreck and I experienced 
the worst terror of my life. Within a year I had some more accidents, each one re- 
newing that feeling of terror and telling me that I could no longer claim to be in con- 
trol of my life as I had tried to be heretofore. 

7 Sullender (1989), chapters 4 and 5. 


page 57 

My parish was becoming no longer able to support its own expectations: its 
financial condition and foreseeable future called for it to become a part-time minis- 
try. I could not remain there in the changing situation, but even after searching for 
two years I could not find a new position. Clearly, I was not in control of this, 

It felt the worse to me because I had not been able to save the parish from its 
decline, and was unable to feel OK about letting go of it. The situation deteriorated 
as some parishioners became more and more angry that no resolution appeared, and 
mounted a campaign to cut the budget from under me. At last there was nothing for 
me to do but resign and take a hastily arranged sabbatical leave. The canonical pro- 
cess was not invoked because there were no grounds, but I was too broken-hearted 
to want to stay any longer. Besides, I felt emotionally and spiritually beaten and ex- 
hausted. That these years of my work in that parish should come to this felt like to- 
tal failure. Frankly, it took a good long time for me to come to terms with this situa- 
tion and the pain it caused me, my wife, and some of our friends. Some friends be- 
trayed us and some forsook us in this heartbreak, and some other friendships be- 
came much richer and deeper. 

This situation developed over about two years. The pain was first mine, and 
then affected my wife and finally our friends. Losing the illusion of control, I felt 
fear and anger, and tried to regain control. Nothing I tried worked. The car accident 
seemed a fitting image of my life in that time, which was spinning out of control. 
Although I had walked away from the crash with only a few scratches, I had had a 
brush with death. Now it became clear that I had no certain future — another way of 
encountering mortality. 

I should note that, as I became seriously depressed, the bishop sent my wife 
and me to Bermuda for a month's rest immediately after the parish Annual Meet- 
ing — we had not gotten away for a real vacation in years. In a small diocese where 
gossip among laity holds the field, he could not see that I got another job, but he 
tried to help the best he could. 

I never found a spiritual director who was equipped to deal with me where I 
was. That in itself was discouraging, but I didn't really know what I needed either. 
It was not until I was in psychotherapy that I could really begin to feel my unresol- 
ved anger and let it heal. 

One can easily conclude from this story that I was foolish to stay in this one 
parish — we were mismatched as well — as long as sixteen years. I say the same 
today. But among some of us there is still the ideal of long-term service. There 
were, as well, personal and family reasons for staying. My spiritual directors were 
not helpful in nosing out the issues and conflicts involved in all this. 

In my professional life, I felt under attack. Although quite a few parishioners 
went out of their way to tell me how good I had been for them, the underground 
power structure was determined that I was the problem. I felt incompetent and dis- 
graced without knowing why. I withdrew from others, because I became very un- 
sure what effect I had on others and did not want to do any more harm. 

My prayer went underground. I prayed the Psalms of anger at God. Otherwise, 


page 58 

I darkly knew that some better kind of prayer was going on in the inaccessible 
depths of my soul, and had to let that suffice. I felt betrayed by God — abandoned 
and 'handed over' to those who chose to destroy me. 

These feelings of loss, betrayal and attack called up earlier memories, and I was 
forced to deal with my life in a new consciousness. My mother died suddenly when 
I was just short of 15; I knew this as a big scar in my soul for many years, but it 
wasn't until I was 45 that I began to heal of that grief with its attendant guilt. Now 
— ten years later — I had to recall who she was to me before she died. I had to deal 
with the ways my family had been dysfunctional after she died, and to forgive both 
my father and myself for the ways that played out in our life together. His death 
was by contrast a wholesome experience full of our love for each other — I think he 
made it that way, or we cooperated to make it so. He lived in Denver, and I made 
three trips out there to see him in his last year — each time thinking it was the last 
time; so we had the chance to say the things to each other that often go unsaid. I 
also had to learn self-esteem apart from my ministry, and self-care. 

As is obvious from this thesis, I have found Jungian psychology a resource for 
understanding myself and others. I have found the personality types helpful in ap- 
preciating both myself and others in our variety and similarity. In the depths of my 
anger, I could no longer relate closely to very much in scripture, and anyway dis- 
trusted the meanings I had treasured in it heretofore. 

As of this writing I continue in a men's therapy group, which helps me keep 
sharp on the things I have learned about myself. It is a laboratory for me to put into 
practice a new way of relating to others. 

In these stories, we have heard in their own words how these clergy grappled 
with what life dealt them. We heard some common themes of mid-life, such as loss — 
loss of the meaning of life, especially the loss of the meaning invested in family (in- 
cluding child or spouse through death or divorce), of parents, of work. We have heard 
in these stories the consciousness of mortality. We catch resonances of the limited na- 
ture of time, and of mortality as reflected in the loss of youth, of health, of family, or of 
work, sometimes involving loss of status and of friends. We heard somewhat of the 
inner need or constraint to settle the past. Finally, we heard the need to recognize the 
limits of life and of ourselves and to be vulnerable to others. 

None of these stories was couched in the special terms of Jungian thought If 
any respondents were familiar with that frame of reference they do not venture to des- 
cribe their experience that way. Yet, when we hear souls wrestling with their past — 
with their memories and those who reside there, the victimizers and the victims — we 

Help in Crisis 

page 59 

are witnessing the shadow, the unconscious self, which either is coming to peaceful 
integration or is still somewhat uncomfortable. When we hear souls tell of their dis- 
comfort with the image of 'Priest,' of the renewal of their manner of being with others, 
of becoming more compassionate and gentle with others, we are hearing about the 
persona becoming more wholesome and integrated. Finally, in the Epilogue we shall 
hear from some souls who are on their way to attaining some recognizable wholeness 
and integration — symbolized in Jungian terms as the archetype of the Self. 

II. Reflections on Help for Clergy in Crisis 

In the survey I asked, "Please give me the benefit of your recommendations for 

helping clergy deal with their crises (recognizing that crises are very individual)." We 
have seen that help is an issue in the stories of several clergy. Some received help from 
their bishops or from other clergy — at least as moral support and encouragement. The 
Church has a role to play in taking care of its ministers — caring for the care-givers — 
because they are sisters and brothers in Christ, as well as because the interests of effec- 
tive ministry are thereby served. Those who may be wounded, frightened, discouraged 
or worn out, they need the kinds of help that are appropriate to their situation. What 
might that mean? 

First, this respondent, who as a bishop is in a position to be of help to his 

clergy, submitted this in the survey. 

I think we learn through pain and grief. The issue is not avoiding them but having 
the resources to deal with them. Clergy need help in being honest about their ques- 
tions and their competitiveness. They need help in learning to be team members and 
not lone rangers. 

[The question regarding help in crisis] is the biggest question of your entire project. 
The Alban Institute, Cornerstone Project, St Barnabas Center in Wisconsin, and 
any number of other programs are trying to provide a network of answers to the re- 
sources clergy need in their crises. We have recently entered into the Clergy Family 
Project of the National Council with the hope that we can identify the crises better 
and begin to build the supports necessary to help. 

Clergy. . . need help identifying the crisis — naming it. Then they need resources 
— spiritual, therapeutic, financial, vocational — you name it. Most of all they need a 
community that recognizes crises and shares the hope of God's love. 
This respondent has given thought and energy to the problems presented by clergy as 

Help in Crisis 

page 60 

they learn through pain and grief. He shows compassion and wisdom regarding clergy 
in crisis. 

The following respondent introduces two interesting metaphors of appropriate 
help, blankets and sandpaper! Both kinds of support are needed for our spiritual and 
mental health, and he suggests we generate support in our parishes as well as among 

our peers. 

Clergy need help — peer support, a parish support group, places where they can 
get blankets and sandpaper. They need some wardens or other leaders who will 
give them sound advice and then be prepared to take it They may need therapy in 
some instances. They need programs or courses that will focus on appropriate self 
care, how to watch for the warning signs of bum-out. They need variety in life and 
clarity of boundaries. They definitely need training in Conflict Management. 

This respondent focuses on systemic resources and on clergy taking 

responsibility — both collegially for each other and individually for themselves. 

Having experienced the work of bishops in dealing with crises both as a 
parish priest and a member of a diocesan [judicatory], I think that not enough re- 
sources are made available early enough in most cases. Bishops frequendy ignore 
problems until all that's possible is a salvage operation, and then the parish is more 
likely to fare better than the priest. 

I don't have any solutions to the problem, except to suggest that clergy 
might take more responsibility for caring for one another and offering help early on. 
Help offered by a peer might be more helpful than help offered by someone who 
will be asked for a recommendation the next time the priest seeks a new position. 

In my present diocese, having seen crises end for the moment the active 
work of a couple of priests and threaten to do the same for a couple more, some of 
us are forming a clergy association largely to provide support during all sorts of 

Another respondent, while not addressing the question of recommendations, 
implies that autonomy is an issue to be addressed by clergy in caring for themselves. 

Many of us, like this woman, have to learn about boundaries and about autonomy. 

Through this experience, I have become more loving of myself, more forgiving, 
and generous. I have learned to recognize my needs, and how to respond to them 
by setting boundaries for myself. .... I've also come to see that the Church will 
never be the mother that I didn't have in my youth — in fact, she's more the mother 
that I did have: consuming, insensitive, all-encompassing. The best mother I'm 
ever going to have is me. 

The following respondent also emphasizes our caring for ourselves. 

Clergy have careers. In our Episcopal polity, we alone are responsible for our 
careers. We cannot wait for white doves to land. If we feel it's time to move, we 
should initiate a search. If we have ambitions, we should honor them. If we believe 
our present employer isn't treating us well, we should either teach them how to treat 

Help in Crisis 

page 61 

us better or leave. When we reach the 50-plus age when it's often hard to move, we 
should be creative in how we play out our final career years. Twice I have followed 
a priest who stayed too long, got trapped, got sick and became ineffective. When 
this happens, the incumbent suffers, the parish suffers, and the successor suffers. 

From these responses and my experience, I will draw some conclusions. They 
are set out in Chapter 4. 

page 62 

Chapter 3. 
Formation for Ministry 

Since I have undertaken this study from the point of view of the mid-life trans- 
ition (or crisis), I offer the opinion at the outset that the very best formation will not ne- 
cessarily avoid the mid-life transition. The transition will come in its own time, no mat- 
ter what. Nor will the very best formation avoid the transition coming on as full-blown 
crisis. 'You can run but you can't hide' from the existential anxiety and desolation that 
is often the worst interior pain of the mid-life crisis. Other factors — external and inter- 
nal — will have much to do with whether a person feels the mid-life transition as a crisis 
or not. 

I do contend, however, that solid and careful formation will help mitigate some 
painful and professionally damaging aspects of the mid-life crisis. If the recently-or- 
dained are taken seriously from the beginning, if they are helped to fill in the possible 
gaps in their regimen of self-care (including their care of their families), and if their 
continuing self-care in spiritual direction is heartily encouraged, then the mid-life trans- 
ition will not have to include learning — so late! — to pay attention to their own needs. 
Need it be said that ministry from the early years on will be more effective as well? 

I. Job Placement: First Three-to-Five Years After Ordination 

Some of us look back over three decades to recall our beginnings in ordained 
ministry. The Church — as well as our nation — was in a different historical juncture 
thirty years ago than now. The Church coming out of the booming fifties felt itself 
stronger, seemed to know what it was about, seemed to have answers to questions. As 
the upheavals of the sixties were still in the future — the March on Washington in 
August of 1963 would really start the public struggle for civil rights — the Church 
thought itself stable and thought it knew its mission. The formation of new clergy for 
career ministry did not seem to need much attention, the bishops and senior clergy 
knew what to do and how to do it. At least, that seems to have been the attitude of most 
bishops. One respondent wrote: 

Job Placement 

page 63 

"During my time in Seminary there was almost NO contact between me and the 
Diocese of Los Angeles or the Bishop. We were left pretty much to our lonely 

"There was no formal continuing education program for the newly ordained as I 
remember it (thinking back almost 30 years), but the pattern was that we all did 
Curacies and were trained by older, more experienced Priests. I returned to the 
Parish which I had long attended before Seminary (served on the Vestry, was 
Treasurer, ...), so it was an easy time for me. 

"In those days Curacies were 3 years, and then you were expected to move on. 
When my time came in 1965, 1 had decided I wished to become a worker Priest — 
work part-time to support myself and volunteer my time to the Church as my 
schedule permitted. I pursued this pretty much on my own as I remember." 

By deciding to be a worker-priest, this respondent launched himself in a somewhat 
unconventional direction for those days. But the other parts of his story were not unu- 
sual: not much attention from the diocese during seminary, a curacy, and then you're 
on your own. 

For many years the most usual practice has been to place the recently ordained 
in one of two typical situations: 1) as curate in a parish large enough to be able to pay 
an assistant, or 2) as vicar in charge of one to three tiny rural congregations. These 
kinds of placement came in for very mixed reviews in the survey. Practically everybody 

would agree with this respondent: 

"Some kind of apprenticeship (mentoring) is essential in the first years. This can be 
formalized or informal but new clergy need to be able to talk to other clergy 
honestly and openly." 

None of us would disagree that some kind of mentoring relationship is essential in for- 
mation for ministry. The qualification "honestly and openly" may reflect a recognition 
that the arrangement has often lacked something in the past, that there have been many 
curacies in which there was anything but honesty and openness. We all know this, and 
have often heard young clergy tell horror stories about their experience. 

Sometimes the arrangement worked well, and another respondent writes that his 

experience leads him to the same conclusion: 

"I think that all clergy should serve some form of curacy in order to learn the trade 
and test their theories without having to live with them for too long. My best 
teachers were my first boss, and my first vestry. Laity have much to teach us if we 
only give them a chance." 

Others of us have had good experiences as curates, as these respondents did: 

Job Placement 

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"Formation of Newly Ordained — I received basically nothing in this regard in my 
first diocese (and home diocese since childhood). Fortunately, I worked with an 
exceptionally sensitive and supportive priest as his assistant, and found him an im- 
portant element of my formation." 

"I was blessed to have been under the tutelage of . His spiritual and personal 

care was loving, affirming, and wise, and his giftedness as a teacher was a won- 
derful model for my own ministry. He was the first to recognize some of my inter- 
ior struggles and suggested that I seek help in naming some of the painful aspects 
of my life history. With the help of a therapist, I was able to overcome some of the 
day-to-day anxieties that made life so difficult at times " 

This latter respondent's rector is particularly commendable for his sensitivity and wis- 
dom, for the respondent is a woman, and it was in the early days of ordaining women. 
In those years — even more than now — ordained women were pioneers, and had to face 
many stresses as they made their way into this formerly all-male ministry. 

Another woman, already quoted at length in Chapter 2, was not so lucky: 

"I was hired as a lay DRE. . .. The half-time position was 'used up' by education 
tasks and after ordination, the diaconal, and then priestly, tasks of pastoral and lit- 
urgical duties were simply tacked on with no consideration given to the extra time 
needed and no recognition to the fact that these were, indeed, right and proper 
things for me to be doing. The parish acknowledged my change in status and in 
'being' but the rector didn't and the budget didn't " 

It is not uncommon among women clergy to feel they are specially subject to treatment 
that is demeaning, and I cannot say that is not true. Still, it is also possible that this 
rector (and many other rectors) would have treated a male curate — especially a young 
one — the same way. It is entirely possible that he was treated in similar fashion as a 
young curate. It is also possible that he felt beaten down in the same ways by the parish 
system — financially and in workload (or duties assumed) — and was simply initiating 
his curate into this culture. This might even have been unconscious or unexamined. He 
may have needed the same kind of care and affirmation that the curate felt she was not 
getting. The respondent writes out of her subjectivity, and we do not know what efforts 
she made to express her needs or to renegotiate the mutual expectations of her position. 

Another respondent wrote appreciatively of his curacy: 

"The most important part of my formation after ETS was the time I spent with a 
very experienced priest (now a bishop). During the three years that I worked in a 
team ministry with him, I learned a great deal about every aspect of parish life." 

Clergy who have been so blessed in their early years of ministry have much to be 

Job Placement 

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thankful for. These, at least, carry blessings from their first years of ordained ministry. 
It is worth noting that, in the survey, all those who speak well of their early years were 
curates: none was alone in a tiny mission. 

A respondent who did begin his ministry all alone in the rural deep South 

remembers it as a severe trial — nearly the end of him: 

"My first year was awful - 1962. 1 was a deacon, 30 miles from the nearest Episco- 
pal priest, in a very small mission, at the beginning of the civil rights movement. I 

almost left the ministry, but hung on. Then I was moved to , where I did a 

two-year curacy under a great teacher and mentor. ... He saved my ministry in the 
immediate sense, but also gave me tools and insights that have affected my practice 
of ministry over the years. Also, on moving to the diocese of Washington, I had the 
opportunity to be in a peer learning and support group led by Jack Anderson and 
Jim Fenhagen." 

Another respondent also had a shaky beginning, all by himself: 

"To begin with, I was one of those who were literally thrown to the wolves, with a 
small mission in Montana, later they added another which was 75 miles away. The 
bishop resigned shortly after I was made a Deacon, and left the state after I was 
made a priest six months later. I felt the need for Spiritual direction, having gone to 
a seminary which became preoccupied with what was going on in the riots in 

As life in the turbulent sixties unfolded, the seminaries and the Church were caught up 
in a struggle to discern their mission and ministry. This respondent felt short-changed, 
and his first position was in every way far from the life of his seminary. He was geo- 
graphically distant from his seminary and from other Episcopal clergy, he was set 
down in a culture far different from the big Eastern city, and had no community life like 
that of the seminary in which to share his struggle. 

In the survey I asked for recommendations for the formation of newly-ordained 
clergy. We have seen that several respondents favor a mentoring relationship — even see 
it as essential — in the early years of ordained ministry. Another proposes something on 
the model of medical training: 

"After conscientious seminary training, we enter quite abruptly the world of the 
church. It would probably be too much to expect the training of specialized physi- 
cians, but some movement toward the internship and residency models would be 

Another respondent is brief and to the point: "My recommendation for the formation of 
newly ordained clergy would be a) close mentor supervision with an experienced and 

Job Placement 

page 66 

able priest, b) peer learning and support group." I would only add that there needs to 
be peer support or supervision for the mentors as well: we need to eradicate the lone- 
ranger mentality at all levels. 

The arrangement by which a newly ordained person is put under the care and 
tutelage of an experienced priest is a toss of the dice. In the first place, there is the 
simple fact that the parish is large enough to pay for a curate. In recent years, parishes 
and their characteristics have been studied by Arlin Rothauge and others; what was 
clear to most of us long ago is now catalogued in terms of 'Pastoral,' 'Program' and 
'Corporation' parishes. The rector of a parish large enough to afford a curate will al- 
most without exception be strong in administration. Is it too harsh to say that such a 
priest usually will have some difficulty relating closely with people? To the extent that 
this is true, the very personal qualities and talents that make the rector desirable as rec- 
tor of a large parish may make her/him less effective as a mentor. Obviously there are 
exceptions — as noted in the above testimonials — but my experience and observation 
lead me to suggest that it is not uncommon. In any case — whether my undocumented 
hunch is true or not — we need to pay close and careful attention to what educational 
experience the curate will have in relationship with the senior priest — and at the kind of 
learning about how to be a pastor a curate will receive in such a situation. 

A priest of some wisdom, and experience in both parishes and diocesan offices, 


"It has been my observation . . . that some of the priests who are most suited to the 
role of mentor are serving parishes which cannot afford a curate, and that the rec- 
tors of parishes which have curates are often terrible mentors. While we cannot stop . 
large parishes from hiring curates and making them suffer under such rectors, I be- 
lieve that we ought to be able to find the resources to place the newly ordained un- 
der the supervision of priests who have demonstrated an ability to help in forma- 
tion. The short term cost would be small by comparison with the long term cost to 
the Church of our present system." 

This needs to be taken seriously. Obviously, large parishes are going to hire 
new clergy as curates, and — again — a principal reason for this is financial. To state it 
flatly, new clergy are cheaper. (I write from the depressed Northeast, and it is hard to 
imagine a church that is not strapped by tight budgets and financial worries.) Very well, 

Job Placement 

page 67 

facts are facts, and money is surely one of them. The question is: can we imagine a 
structure for the curacy of a newly-ordained cleric in which the diocese — perhaps 
through its able priests — takes an active role in formation? The astute balancing of 
short-term and long-term costs — in both money and effective ministry — is worth our 
best efforts. 

As for putting new clergy in charge of small congregations, there is a recom- 
mendation against that: 

"I'd recommend that new clergy not be put in charge of congregations, but be guid- 
ed into apprenticeships with healthy and capable rectors. I recommend that those 
apprenticeships be lengthy — five years or so — and that they be seen as manage- 
ment training, not acculturation into the Church. For one thing, the Church is 
changing too fast for today's acculturation to be relevant tomorrow. The world is 
changing fast, too. The aim of the apprenticeship should be learning how to func- 
tion effectively in a complex and changing environment." 

The same respondent then goes on to expound a view that might be prophetic: 

"The future of the Episcopal Church, in my opinion, lies in large congregations. 
The day is over when the Episcopal Church could comfortably be a denomination 
of small parishes. Financial viability is one reason. Another is the need for substan- 
tial program, both because people demand it and because we need to compete for 
the people whose loyalty we used to take for granted. Small survival-oriented pa- 
rishes engaged in endless financial worries simply won't make it. New clergy 
should learn how large congregations work. That calls for some new and unique 
skills, more akin to corporate managers than to country parsons. Many clergy resist 
the corporate metaphor, but if they want to have lively careers and effective minis- 
tries, they had better overcome that resistance." 

We can all see that the number of parishes in the Episcopal Church is shrinking, 
as is the number of members. We can all see that many small parishes are becoming fi- 
nancially unable to maintain their viability and are taking the option for part-time minis- 
try. At the same time, it is said that the generation of the '60' s — to the extent that they 
will come back to church at all — will join the larger churches, because these are able to 
support the programs that will be desired. It is a consumer spirit, and it tilts the future 
toward the larger congregations, as our respondent predicts. 1 If that is so, it will 
eventually mean more large parishes in which our new clergy can be mentored and 

Enfolding history, of course, may prove this prediction false, like many others before 

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formed. It also will mean a loss of intimacy such as can only be found in small 
congregations, and yet more distance set between us and the country parson image that 
many still harbor. There are some needs that a corporation church cannot fill. 

An alternative to the corporation church, in urban as well as rural areas, is the 
linked multi-parish or 'deanery parish,' with a team of clergy for its ministry. 2 This 
is already an established structure in some areas — though, to my knowledge, only in 
rural (or small town) situations. Obviously, not all clergy will fit well into this struc- 
ture; but for those who do — and with the right team members — the advantages of both 
the small congregations and the team of colleagues for peer support highly commend 

The small parishes left over from this projected future — especially in rural areas 
where consolidation is much more difficult if not simply impossible — must have some 
provision for sacramental and pastoral ministry. One respondent lamented the passing 
of the small church: "I love and know the small church. Does any one care or really in- 
vest in the small church anymore? Hell. I can't find em! No more Roanridge etc.. . ." 
(This respondent said, "My stuff is not anonymous — use it any way you wish," but for 
the sake of consistency and fairness to all, I am not using anyone's name but mine.) 
The point is, the small church should not be used as the testing place for new clergy. It 
is not fair to the small church, nor is it fair to most new clergy. Bp Wesley Frensdorff 's 
adaptations of the indigenous ministry idea may provide a more creative model for these 
rural situations. 3 

2 Two decades ago Urban Holmes imagined The Future Shape of Ministry (1971). The 
idea of small communities under a larger umbrella was proposed in that book, much more 
radically than here. He contended — rightly, I think — that "every Christian needs the expe- 
rience of the intimate community, as well as the great church" (p. 234). He said that large 
parishes can hardly fulfill the need for intimacy, and don't do well with grand scale liturgy 
or social action either. See his discussion in Chapter 12 of Future Shape. The sociological 
and structural questions are not within the scope of this thesis, and my viewpoint is simply 
that of a parish priest who has worked within the present system and witnessed its dys- 

3 I have heard both Bp Frensdorff and his administrative deacon, Phina Borgessen, speak 
at conferences on "Total Ministry." Unfortunately, a search of periodical indices turns up 

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Whatever structure is set in place for the beginning ministry of the newly or- 
dained, somebody will criticize it. These respondents, however, reflect their experience 
and their observations of the Church over years of ministry. They should not be 

Nor, I think, do these stories and opinions say much that bishops and clergy do 
not already know. The question is of inertia: are we not creative enough to reenvision 
the formation process and do it better? 

II. Formation for Life-Care. 

A. Stewardship of Time, Stewardship of Life. 

From the responses to my survey I conclude that those who responded gene- 
rally do not look back upon their formation experience with very high regard. To be 
more precise, many of us have little to thank our bishops and diocesan structures for. 
Some of us remember our first years of parish ministry in terms of survival: our initia- 
tion into and formation in professional ministry seemed a pretty elaborate form of fra- 
ternity hazing, haphazard or worse under a rector who was not suitable as mentor to us. 

One issue checked off in the survey as lacking in formation programs is time 
management/life management. We wish we had received (better) guidance about this. I 
remember my bishop telling us ordinands, before we were made deacons, "I always 
take a day off, and I think you should too." That was fine as far as it went, but it was 
not enough. At least for people like me, much more was necessary, because we are too 
easily taken into the systemic addictions of church life. (Again, I recognize that my 
temperament is more susceptible to this than those of many others: I am among those 
who have "difficulty placing limits on the amount of time and energy" we are willing to 
devote to our work. 4 But at least I speak for those of us with this temper, and possi- 
bly for some others.) Put us to work for a workaholic rector and we become infected 
by the same addiction. We set about serving God by serving all the needs of all the pa- 

nothing by or about either of them on this subject, or about the Nevada plan for parish 
structure or mission strategy, in the past twenty years. 
4 Keirsey and Bates (1978), p. 65. 

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rishioners. We become neglectful of our own well-being and of our marriage and fami- 
ly, in the name of our calling — in the name of serving God! (That's a heavy burden for 
a spouse to bear.) 

At least for some clergy, my bishop's advice needs to be repeated often in the 
first three-to-five years after ordination. It needs to be repeated often enough that it 
soaks in, and it needs to be repeated in a peer group or by a spiritual director until each 
individual learns to confront those who would contradict it — whether the rector or pari- 
shioners or oneself. It is probably clear, but I will state it plainly: I wish I had this good 
advice insistendy drummed in. Or — just possibly — I wish I had been able to hear it; 
that issue will be taken up in (C) below. 

Furthermore, the advice to take a day off needs to be augmented by some fur- 
ther suggestions, such as: 1) don't be suckered by the telephone. If you can leave town 
on your day off and do something fun for yourself, do it. But you shouldn't be com- 
pelled to leave town to have some time off: if you stay home and answer the telephone, 
be clear what kind of messages you want to give if someone calls you on business. 
2) If you don't have a hobby, go and buy one. At least on your day off, you need to 
spend time doing something that satisfies you, some activity that will refresh and recre- 
ate you. You absolutely must honor your gifts and talents — most especially those that 
are not actively in use in your ministry. If your spouse can share your hobby with you, 
so much the better, if it is something for you alone, allot some time for it and some to 
spend with your spouse doing something else. 

I couldn't say it better than this respondent does: 

"We need to learn how to care for ourselves. We need to lead whole lives, not 
church lives. That means seeking non-church friends, non-church activities, plenty 
of leisure time and a healthy family. My role as parish priest is a job, not a life. My 
life as a Christian person, parent, husband and citizen is a life." 

In my case, I am a trained instrumental musician, but for twenty-two years of 
my ministry there was no orchestra that I could play in. I regretted that situation, but 
did not become angry enough to do something about it — starting an orchestra, or mo- 
ving to a different locale. In the spirit of self-sacrifice I accepted the lack of an outlet for 
my talent, not realizing what the long-term toll on me would be. Since returning to 

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Cambridge, a part of caring for myself has been my joining an orchestra; it meets once 
a week, puts me in touch with people who like my playing but for whom the church 
and ministry do not matter — at least while we practice. For me, to honor my musical 
talent is to honor the God who made me and included it in my make-up. To exercise 
this talent is creative and recreative. 

Even off-time and pursuing a hobby is not enough for clergy who are suscep- 
tible to workaholism, however. We need also to be told to organize our weekly sched- 
ule so that on, say, at least four days out of seven, we include in our waking hours 
something that is likely to be enjoyable and fulfilling, fun. It is all too easy for us to 
work away compulsively at job-related tasks and neglect ourselves and our families. 
There are only a few hours in the day when we are welcome in parishioners' homes for 
non-crisis pastoral calls. It can happen that we take up those hours with the effort to 
find our parishioners at home and visit them (they tell us they want us to visit them, 
though we may sometimes wonder if they really mean it). It also can happen that those 
visits, or the effort to make them, are not much fun: they can be draining, they can be 
depressing, they can be especially hard work when we visit the laggards and back- 

What do we do with the other hours of the day? We read the mail — which as 
often as not is trying to hustle us to do something we really don't want to do. We work 
on next Sunday's sermon — we study the texts, we look up quotations and such, we 
think about it, we write things down. (Please pardon my generalizing here: some clergy 
are much better preachers than I am, and with a lot less effort — or so it seems to me. As 
with most things, I work too hard at it and worry it to death.) Most church meetings are 
in the evening, or on Saturdays, so it happens that many of our evenings are taken up 
that way. And there are a multitude of other details of running a parish that we can take 
up our time doing. The point is, where is there room in this kind of day for something 
that's fun, recreating, fulfilling for me? The spirit of my bishop's advice to take a day 
off every week needs to be carried over through the week, lest I be compulsive for six 
days and try to be non-compulsive on the seventh — because that will eventually court 

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disaster. Each of us has a different idea of what is fun; we need to know what is fun for 
us and honor it in some way. Even on work-days! 

B. The Question of Peer Relations 

An issue several respondents pointed to, and is clearly a problem, is isolation. 

The clergy in many areas and in many dioceses regard one another from a distance. We 

are in competition for parishioners, we are in competition for the best work and the 

going-est parish, we are in competition for competence. (Our parishioners too often see 

it this way too: when a neighboring parish was in trouble, my senior warden asked in a 

Vestry meeting if there was any way we could get hold of their mailing list!) We regard 

professional lives and personal lives as matters of personal responsibility. 

If a neighboring priest becomes addicted to alcohol or drugs, we may never 

know until it is already public knowledge. If a neighboring priest is in marital trouble, 

we may never know until the divorce is at least in process. If we are the one in trouble, 

in whom shall we confide? Is there another priest who really knows us, for whom our 

story would have a context in that knowledge, and who would have the compassion 

and wisdom to listen and be supportive in appropriate ways? Some of us have been 

blessed in this way, but many have not. One respondent put it rather harshly: 

"Learning the Hard Way 

What level of confidentiality to expect of peers — the level at which rumor, innuen- 
do, and (to put it nicely) half-truths abound among clergy is incredibly high to my 
mind. I 'should have known,' but ended up learning via small bumpy routes (not 
the 'major crisis,' however)." 

I hope no bishop or mentor would feel it necessary to caution a newly ordained 
person, as a rule, not to trust other clergy. But it surely should be a concern of bishops 
to foster a spirit among the clergy that would undercut this tendency to gossip. And on 
occasion to confront it very pointedly. 

Clergy must learn to regard themselves as members of a community of col- 
leagues. As dioceses and in smaller groups such as deaneries, or — where geographi- 
cally possible — in informal groups of friends, we need to work at building intentional 

communities of colleagues for support of our ministry. One respondent writes that 
"clergy have to be prepared to take care of one another and to seek help from one 

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another. I no longer trust the institution, or its leaders, to look out for my interests. 
I need to find colleagues with whom I can share the task of looking out for one 

The intentional building of peer support will come up again in (D), below. 

C. Spiritual Companionship 

All this points to the need for spiritual companionship. Only very recently have 
very many clergy recognized spiritual companionship as a possibility, and even as a 
good thing. 

Not enough people have been trained in the arts of spiritual companionship. 
Only a few clergy are competent at it. There is no compelling reason laity cannot exer- 
cise this ministry, even with clergy. Sometimes, Roman Catholic religious sisters are 
very helpful in this ministry to Episcopal clergy. (Episcopalian religious sisters also 
may exercise this ministry to clergy, but I have not heard of it.) To be sure, the de- 
mands of spiritual companionship are such that the best companions for some clergy 
may be professional counselors or psychotherapists. 

One survey respondent recommends for formation, "Get the person with a 
mentor who can spiritually direct the new ministry. Make available a Christian therapist 
for the clergy and family. By Christian I mean a believer, who knows something about 
congregation life." I do not necessarily agree that the therapist must be a believer, since 
the problem areas are simply human; still, an appreciation for the dynamics of social 
behavior would surely be essential. (A therapist who did me much good is a former 
Dominican nun. That is a fact of her past, however, and is not the first or most impor- 
tant factor in her very effective work. Most important is that she is highly intuitive and 
willing to take risks on her hunches.) 

One survey respondent recommends, for clergy in crisis: 

"Get a therapist (I tried two during this period and neither helped). Get in a Spiritual 
Direction relationship. Get the family in therapy. Don't depend on a bishop or other 
clergy. Recognize a bad match with a parish and get out quickly." 

Some of this is surely appropriate as preventive care well ahead of crisis. Taking life as 
a whole, rather than drawing a line between personal and professional life, I contend 
there is not a clear and necessary line between therapy and spiritual direction, and I 

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agree that the "right" therapist or companion may not be easy to find. Recognizing "a 
bad match with a parish" is not easy for some of us (I do not know of any diagnostic 
tools for this particular situation), but the right spiritual companion should regard this 
issue as appropriate matter for discussion, and can be invaluable as bringing a different 
perspective. The family may or may not need therapy except in a crisis (how shall we 
define need?). And it is often not wise to depend on the bishop or other clergy to see 
what we need or to confront us on our care of ourselves and our families. 

Much of what is supposed to be 'spiritual direction' focuses much too narrowly 
on prayer and 'spiritual' life. The precise definition of 'spiritual life' may be narrow or 
broad, but people who offer the ministry of spiritual companionship — probably some 
clergy do this ministry more than anybody else — are generally not trained and equipped 
in the fine art of identifying the issues of growth and health in the lives of others and 
pursuing them insistently. (All professional psychotherapists are not equal in this 
regard, either.) To most of us clergy, being 'pastoral' in our work generally means the 
opposite of confrontation. We need more and better-trained spiritual directors. 5 

One survey respondent offers this: 

"Allowing oneself to become dependent on the institution is folly. What clergy need 
is savvy, not illusions. Savvy requires experience, learning to understand systems, 
learning about people, and learning about oneself, especially how one uses and 
responds to power." 

One way to get this savvy, of course, is by constant self-reflection. Still, I contend that 
these issues — and others — are too hard to leave to that chance. As someone said, 
"Whoever it was that discovered water, you can be sure it was not a fish." The issues 
that affect us so very closely, and are indeed part of our own personalities (such as our 
uses of and responses to power), are too difficult to apprehend and deal with by our 

5 Books and articles on spiritual direction proliferate. The training I am thinking of does 
not come from reading, but from the kind of disciplined supervision that a psychotherapist 
is likely to get in training. The issues are interpersonal, and will be learned through coach- 
ing rather than from reading. As important as knowledge of the spiritual life is — with the 
various problems, exigencies and pitfalls — spiritual companionship is interpersonal, and 
there is skill involved in working issues through with persons. The training regimen of the 
Shalem Institute in Washington may come closest to what I mean here. 

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lonely selves. Even if CPE provided great insight into ourselves, we need some contin- 
uing process of reflection in relationship. Without questioning the power of prayer, and 
the power of God to lead us through prayer, it is much more efficient to find these 
things in relationship with a companion who is trained in this type of discipline. Need 
we say that God created us for relationship, and uses such relationships for our good? 
Studzinski, with Levinson, recommends what both call the mentor relationship. 

They are state clearly that the mentor's task is both sensitive and tough: 

A person's relationship with a mentor can itself be the scene of struggle and hard- 
ship because it can call forth old patterns of relating to parents and reawaken child- 
hood expectations and disappointments. Levinson, describing the male perspective, 
sees this in terms of a man struggling with the little boy still present within himself: 
'The little boy desperately wants the mentor to be a good father in the most childish 
sense — a father who will make him special, will endow him with magical powers 
and will not require him to compete or prove himself in relation to would-be rivals. 
It is also the little boy who anxiously makes the mentor into a bad father — a de- 
priving, dictatorial authority who has no real love and merely uses one for his own 
needs. The relationship is made untenable by the yearning for the good father, the 
anxiety over the bad father, and the projection of both of these internal figures onto 
the mentor, who is then caught in the bind.' However, this difficulty can be worked 
through with the assistance of a mentor who is attuned to what is happening. Thus, 
to be a good mentor Levinson holds that a person must have successfully done the 
work of his or her own midlife transition. 6 

It must not be supposed that only 'sick' people would get all tangled up about 

their relationships in this way. Those who are well-adjusted adults may have settled 
these issues — but they never go away. Below the surface of each of us, these dynamics 
lie dormant, perhaps, but under enough stress they can erupt and distress even well- 
balanced people. The point is, spiritual direction/companionship can be difficult and can 
require arts and skills that most practicing spiritual directors have not acquired. It is 
worth emphasizing that the good spiritual director should have successfully done the 
work of his or her own midlife transition. 

To take one issue for example, I took notice in Chapter 1 of the danger of 
workaholism. Workaholism, far from being the benign and even laudable quirk that 
our society takes it to be, is a death-dealing addiction. If we take that seriously, we will 

6 Studzinski (1985), p. 49. Levinson, The Seasons of a Man's Life, p. 147. 

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not suppose it is all right for clergy to be or become workaholics. Workaholism is de- 
trimental to good ministry and to healthy ministers and ministers' families. 

It is not a simple matter, however, to identify this disease and intervene before it 
reaches crisis proportions. In the first place, as Schaef and Fassel point out, "work is a 
very tricky addiction, . . . because when workaholics are most 'into' their disease, they 
feel most alive, even though it may be killing them." 7 What is the problem with a 

workaholic's relation to work and to life? 

For people who are not work-addicted, there are pauses between projects, times 
when one savors success and rests and spends time with loved ones. For the 
workaholic, the prospect of these pauses is terrifying, for they are not experienced 
as times of release and quiet. They are times of being out of touch with the 'fix' of 
the addictive substance and functioning in an arena that cannot be controlled by the 

work process. 8 
That is what signals addiction to work. But how do we help an addict admit the prob- 
lem? After all, a very common defense mechanism routinely employed by addicts of all 
kinds is denial. Schaef and Fassel say this about denial: "If something does not exist, it 
simply does not have to be considered. . . . The alcoholic says, 'I am not an alcoholic. I 
may have a small drinking problem, and I may overdo it a bit on weekends or under 
stress, but I do not have a severe problem.'" 9 Denial allows us to avoid coming to 
terms with what is happening to our lives and health. When we will not let ourselves or 
others confront us about our behavior regarding work we perpetuate our descent into 
this hell. 

I wish to emphasize in this context that spiritual direction/companionship is not 
a luxury or a bit of professional fluff that really is not worth worrying about. What is at 
stake is both the health of those precious souls who happen to be the church's ordained 
ministers and the quality of ministry in the church. To be frank, the church as an insti- 
tutional system (with a few exceptions) does not help us see clearly our own health 

issues. Schaef and Fassel are blunt about institutional religion: 

To the extent that religious systems are caught in the same processes as the addict, 
they themselves support our remaining in the addictive system. Indeed, whenever 

7 Schaef and Fassel (1988), p. 131. 


9 Ibid., p. 62. 

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we confuse religion with spirituality, we are opting for the structure, control, and 
rules of an addictive system. This reliance on religion may remove us from the 
inner search only we can do from the depths of our own being. 10 
This confusion is exactly what characterizes most parishes. For most of our parishio- 
ners church activities fill needs both religious and social. 'Attending' church fills the 
religious need, and need not include a search for honest spirituality. The symbols and 
trappings are sufficient to comfort them that they are being religious. Some of us clergy 
work hard to bring spiritual reality into this religiosity, but it is uphill all the way. The 
social activities of the church are legitimate enough, and often serve the further purpose 
of raising money to keep the church running. We know the priorities are usually 
wrong, but we also know the parish needs the money. So we spend time and energy on 
projects that are peripheral, at best, to what we thought we were being ordained for. 
Schaef and Fassel point out why clergy, like nurses and others, become worn 


Is it any wonder people in the helping professions are often exhausted and de- 
pressed? They join an organization to do one thing and spend most of their time 
doing another. As we see, frequently the thing they end up doing is totally incon- 

gruent with the reasons they became helpers in the first place. 11 

Most assuredly, clergy are subject to this 'bait and switch' tactic as we go into parish 


How can we work on these issues in a constructive way, as a normal part of 

our self-care? I am contending that spiritual direction/companionship is a necessary part 

of our life as ministers, and that this needs to have the capacity to be tough when the 

situation calls for being tough. The alternative is to scrap the whole project of ministry 

as a bad idea. 

D. Spiritual Companionship in a Peer Group 

Spiritual companionship need not always be in a one-on-one setting. Several 
survey respondents cited and recommended peer groups as supportive and helpful. For 

l0 Ibid., p. 67. 
n Md.,p. 123. 

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"Another important element — something which I didn't have when I was 
newly ordained — would be some form of regular meeting of clerics during the 
first year or so after ordination. In larger dioceses, this can be a fairly elaborate 
program and combined with a program for mentors. But even in smaller dioceses, 
where there might be only a couple of recent ordinands, a reflection group with a 
senior priest. (I met for about a year with two recent ordinands when I was a 
member of a diocesan staff and would like to believe that it was a valuable 
experience for both of them.)" 

"What needs to happen during the learning years? As hard as some lessons are, 
there's no better way to learn them than by experience. Clergy need to be tough. 
Not so callous that we cannot sense and respond to people's needs, but tough 
enough to handle stress, rejection and conflict. Toughness isn't a skill, as much as 
it is an attribute that arises out of taking risks, being taken seriously and shown the 
learnings of our particular experience. I hesitate to use the word 'mentor,' because 
that often implies one who makes the path easier. In fact, the hard road is where the 
best lessons abound. I personally have benefitted most from colleagues who had 
enough experience to help me recognize what I was experiencing but avoided 
treating me as a child. Finding such colleagues is a critical act of self-preservation 
that probably is bom of desperation, rather than of pre-planning." 

We need, this respondent says, to take risks and then learn from the experience. We 
need to be taken seriously. We need collegial support. I absolutely agree, and contend 
that this needs to be provided for as a normal part of our lives. A peer group that stays 
together over a considerable time — long enough to establish and operate from mutual 
trust — is the best structure for this, and fosters ministry to each other. 

Another respondent writes: 

"I think we learn through pain and grief. The issue is not avoiding them but having 
the resources to deal with them. Clergy need help in being honest about their ques- 
tions and their competitiveness. They need help in learning to be team members and 
not lone rangers." 

I suggest that peer groups can help us be (or become) honest — providing that being 
honest is an agreed agenda of the group and it is willing to work at it. Agreeing to be 
and become honest in a peer group is no small accomplishment, and staying with it is 
even bigger. The possibility of betrayal is always there, perhaps especially by a mem- 
ber who drops out. For those willing to be challenged by this trust and by the honesty 

of their peers, and to challenge their peers in turn, the benefits are very great. 

"I think the greatest issue I have had to deal with in the formation of my ministry is 
one of honesty — being honest with myself. I am not sure this can be taught to 

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newly ordained and young clergy — though it may be applicable to clergy ordained 
in their 30's or 40's. Age/experience is a better teacher than youth." 

This respondent mentioned group learning only in reference to a conference or work- 
shop. But the need for honesty with oneself is intimately involved in honesty with 
others, and so I argue that a peer group that works at mutual honesty and trust would 
help very much. 

Another respondent testifies to the value of group therapy — a variation on the 

theme of group self-care: 

"I've been enriched by group therapy — something I once swore that I'd never do, 
'I can't trust those people' — and I regularly attend Al-Anon. Both have been very 
important adjuncts to the private therapy that I've received." 

This group therapy — whether it is 'religious' or not — amounts to spiritual direction and 
companionship of the sort that clergy need regularly. The camaraderie that develops in a 
group of peers that meets regularly over an extended period can be very valuable. This 
respondent is one of several to mention receiving help from one or another of the 12- 
Step programs — whether the person is actually addicted or not 

To be most effective and efficient, combining the peer group with the leadership 
of a trained director/therapist would capitalize on the strengths of both kinds of group 
process. And, by the way, such groups under supervision would tend to overcome the 
isolation and mistrust that afflicts clergy groups. I have participated in peer groups and 
know they can be valuable; but there usually comes a time when such a group runs out 
of gas. Supervision by a trained director/therapist can be helpful in discovering new 
material to work on. 

It will be obvious to us all that supervising or leading such a peer group is hard 
work. Work must be supported by compensation, whether the leader is a fellow priest 
or a trained professional therapist (sometimes one can find both in one person). Leaders 
must be chosen carefully, and work under supervision. They must be compensated, 
both because time and energy are required and because the work should be recognized 
as important. In a financially strapped condition such as we find ourselves in now, 
some creative thought needs to be applied to providing this necessity. 

To begin with, such a group might well form to study the issues of addiction. 

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We recognize that alcoholism is a national cultural problem, so the pastoral value of 
delving into this topic should be immediately apparent. As the issues are brought out, 
the personal implications for participants can be made part of the discussion. One 

respondent wrote about his early formation: 

"A peer group in [a particular diocese] would rank as another important experience 
for me, assisting in developing better skills in listening, reflecting and diagnosing 
pastoral situations. This group also afforded me the opportunity to discuss issues of 
sexuality openly with peers, and the effect alcohol had on my personal and family 

There is no limit to the good such a peer group structure can do for clergy, on many 

E. Conflict Management 

Another topic for discussion that received many recommendations in the survey 

responses is Conflict Management. It is frequently mentioned as something we wish 

somebody had helped us with early on, as this priest writes: 

"How to handle conflicts has been one of the things which I have had to learn 
along the way. I'm not sure that anyone could have given me much help before I 
was on my own in a parish, but I would have appreciated some attempts to prepare 
me for the kinds of conflicts which often arise in parishes." 

"Teach parish development the way the Interim Network does, teach conflict 
resolution. Have the clergy read the Bible, participate in Bible study, pray 
constantly and have a Spiritual Director." 

"I wish I had the benefit of a course in Conflict Management in Seminary. I 
have since done so at the doctoral level with great results. I did not understand my 
own conflict management style, that other styles existed which could be used in 
different situations. I was in such pain with my relationship with the rector, I only 
knew avoidance. It was inappropriate, I had nowhere to go, I waited too long to 
leave and just dropped out to return to my former profession and seek healing." 

We see that memories of our early years of ordained ministry include conflict 
both with rectors and with parishioners or parish systems. When conflict arises, emo- 
tional expectations on all sides are involved and must be expressed and resolved. We 
read, above, the account of a woman who began as a lay DRE, who found herself in 
conflict with her rector. We do not know what kinds of negotiations went on between 

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them, or between either party and the Vestry or parishioners. The conflict might have 
played out in many different ways, but above all, there was a clear and present demand 
for discussing mutual recognition of needs, and resolution of the conflict. 

James and Evelyn Whitehead have written extensively about leadership in the 
churches, what it has been and what it must become. They see that the laity demand the 
clergy be heroic, or god-like — wiser, holier, more generous than the laity — and that 
such an image of leadership is blind to the priest's emotional needs. As they see it, 
power, authority and leadership must be shared in a partnership between pastor and 
people; and negotiating such a partnership must include openness about emotional 
needs and supports. 

They write from a Roman Catholic culture and experience, but much that they 
say can be translated, mutatis mutandis, into our Anglican culture. Allowing for the 
difference, e.g., that most Episcopalian clergy marry and have families, the ministerial 
culture still encourages the heroic in us, to the denial of our human needs. The effect on 
our families shows to a degree in the divorce rate among clerical families. 

The Whiteheads concentrate on what the laity expect, but it is hard to sort out 
whether the theological association of the ordained person with God might have led to 

these expectations. 

Many of us have learned that, as ministers and leaders, our job is to satisfy other 
people's needs. If a need arises, our duty is to respond. This heroic expectation is 
rooted in a distorted picture of the community: parental ministers exist to meet the 
children's needs. In such a world, ministers are trained to please the community, to 

keep everybody happy. 12 
Now, where did a priest learn that he/she must be responsible for everybody else's 

needs and happiness but not our own? Where did we learn that our role is parental and 

the people are like children? Perhaps we learned it partly from scripture (the image of 

God as parental and of Jesus as wise); partly perhaps we 'knew' it from our very call to 

follow Jesus in his ministry; but in practice we learned it in the training in ministry we 

received as we went to work in a parish, under the supervision of an experienced 


12 Whitehead and Whitehead (1991), p. 162. 

Formation for Life-Care 

page 82 

The practical results of the heroic ideal in ministry is as good an argument 
against 'patriarchal theology' as any theoretical one. The heroic ideal cannot sustain our 
life, either our personal health or the church's common life. Eventually the price must 
be paid for it, and in terms of our personal life it will too often be exacted against our 

emotional health. 

When a priest finds that his strength and virtue do not match this ideal, he tends to 
blame himself. Rather than questioning the distorted cultural image, the priest 
punishes himself for falling short. Feeling inadequate, he is likely to resist any 

conversation about needs. 13 

For the church the price will be paid in terms of passivity and dependency. We cannot 

think God will be pleased with such results! 

A curate whose fortunes have led to a position under supervision in a less-than- 

positive relationship must learn to negotiate her/his needs with the rector. It is a hard 

lesson, but in so doing he/she will not only preserve and enhance her/his emotional 

health, but also will model for the church the struggle for partnership that must become 

the church's pattern of common life. 

Partnership in an adult church depends on our participation. Authority in the com- 
munity of faith is not simply what they do to the rest of us — whether we judge 
them to be good-hearted or malicious, enlightened or hopelessly out of touch. The 
rest of us are more than just beneficiaries or victims, more than simply observers of 

how religious authority functions. We are all active participants in authority. 14 

Obviously, the struggle for partnership in church life will not be a short or 

painless one, and we are all called into it. Conflict is a sore issue from the early days of 
supervision under a rector and on into later years of ordained ministry. Conflict man- 
agement resolution, toward mutuality and partnership, needs to be part of our early and 
ongoing self-care. 

F. Other Issues. 

A batch of other issues came up for mention in the survey responses, some of 
which seem to merit inclusion here. One respondent, a bishop, begins with this 

observation and commitment, part of which has already been quoted: 

"We need to start with people who can be formed! Formation of any sort depends 

Ufoid., p. 161. 
l4 Ibid., p. 29. 

Formation for Life-Care 

page 83 

on who the person is and what life experiences that person brings to the process. 
Then I feel the community we put them in is crucial — whether it is the seminary 
community or local training program. That community needs to be one that lives out 
the formation process." 

If the bishops, COMs, and seminaries really saw themselves in this program together, 
it would bid very well for the future of the Church. From where I sit, it looks as if there 
are many gaps. 

In many ways, respondents to the survey signaled that there is a good deal of 
anxiety and anger around matters of 'deployment.' In the written responses there were 

several that focussed on knowing when one ought to move. 

"Another area which I learned about a bit late was the dynamics of parish history. I 
was elected rector of a small parish whose previous rector had just retired after 26 
years there. No one gave me any clues as to the dynamics of that kind of a situa- 
tion, although there are plenty of clues to be found from the field of congregational 
studies. Sewanee's parish field education program includes some work in congre- 
gational studies and I suspect that students who have acquired some of those analy- 
tical tools are less likely to be surprised as I was when I discovered that I really 
couldn't stay in that parish for more than three years." 

Another said: 

"Twice I have followed a priest who stayed too long, got trapped, got sick and be- 
came ineffective. When this happens, the incumbent suffers, the parish suffers, and 
the successor suffers." 

And another: 

"It would have been helpful to have clear guidelines on when one is expected to 
move, needs to move, and the professional and personal issues attached to same." 

Is it too much to expect the bishop to be aware of these facts of parish history, and to 
be ready with the apt word of advice at the right time? Perhaps it should be the job of 
the Canon to the Ordinary to keep track of such things, and keep in touch with the 

Appropriately, the next respondent brings up the issue of dependence. 

"Seminary, I think, encouraged us to expect that the Church would 'take care of 
us.' In other words, it encouraged dependency. It didn't take long in the field to 
learn otherwise. Bishops don't 'tend flocks'; they administer dioceses and travel. 
Vestries don't 'care for' clergy; they resist leadership, stifle new vision and work 
hard to control their key employees. Parishioners engage in counter-dependency 
and transference, while speaking the language of family. I don't feel bitter about 
this. It was a surprise, but I soon realized that the parish is a setting where people's 
deepest needs and dysfunctions come into play." 

Formation for Life-Care 

page 84 

This respondent is astute to realize early the dynamics of church life on its different lev- 
els. He is slightly jaded and cynical but we have all come, early or late, to know where- 
of he speaks. I don't know that seminary encouraged dependency in us, as he says, 
though seminary may have been the locus of our becoming aware of dependency feel- 
ings. A difficulty with our position as parish clergy is that we are put upon by so many 
conflicting parties, so we must develop a healthy autonomy with regard to both dioces- 
an judicatories and our parishioners. Another respondent also draws attention to this 

latter side of the issue: 

"I have learned the hard way that people lead difficult lives and that they act out 
those difficulties, often in destructive ways, at church. Being a healthy, capable and 
functional parish priest is inherently a lonely job. One had better have a high tole- 
rance for loneliness (not 'lone ranger-ness') and for conflict" 

Finally, one respondent brought up prayer and spiritual formation. It is 

interesting that these got so little attention in most of the responses. 

"The other area of ministry formation which has been important to me is prayer. 
It is one of those things which should go without saying — but the assumption is 
that clergy ought to be the experts on prayer which is seldom the case. My particu- 
lar form is centering prayer; but I assume any regular form (and the key is regular) 
would work. If careful in prayer we spend time listening to the voice [actions] of 
God in our lives and helps us in being honest with ourselves. 

"What I have found lacking in the preparation for ministry was any kind of real 
spiritual formation other than the worship of the church. This is only something I 
have picked up on in the last 5-7 years and I am not really sure I would have taken 
advantage of it as a younger person. As I have come to recognize my limitations . . . 
I have come to realize dependence upon God is a good thing." 

The opportunities available to seminarians for learning to pray and for spiritual 
direction are greater today than in earlier days. The opportunities are available, but se- 
minarians must take responsibility to make use of them. If clergy are to be versed not 
only in theology but prayer and spiritual life, then they need to be people who will take 
the opportunities to learn these. As another respondent says, "We need to start with 
people who can be formed! Formation of any sort depends on who the person is and 
what life experiences that person brings to the process." Spiritual direction must begin 
with the raw material of who the person is and what life experiences she or he brings to 
the preparation for ministry. 

Continuing Life Care 

page 85 

People do expect clergy to be able to teach them about prayer. Furthermore, in 
the ministry of word and sacrament, they do assume the priest has an inner spiritual life 
with the God whose word and sacraments these are. For a priest, there must be an 
inner life that inheres in a regular dealing in the things of God, and therefore we are 
bound to pursue a life of spiritual discipline and ongoing conversion to fulfill our voca- 
tion with integrity. 

Finally, one respondent tersely describes his learnings: 

"What I learned the hard way? #1 that I'm not Superman and don't have to be. I do 
not have to carry the burden by myself. #2 Don't allow [my] self to get emotionally 
involved, to be more aware of my vulnerability. However, these are 'head/heart' 
issues. You can perfectly understand something intellectually and still be emotional- 
ly at risk. . . . We never discussed personal, emotional vulnerability in seminary. So 
I thought I was prepared to handle anything. OR, I never thought that I could or 
would get emotionally involved." 

III. Continuing Life-Care. 

The issues of continuing self-care beyond the critical first years of ministry are 
more general. We all got on with our lives, got special skills and experience, and pur- 
sued those opportunities for ministry that were offered or we sought out according to 
the way we saw ourselves. The same can be expected of any new generation of clergy. 

Certain points need emphasis for this period, however, if only to say what we 
all know and not leave them out. These are: the continuing need for education, for spi- 
ritual direction, and for growing autonomy. 

The first point is that we can never consider ourselves beyond the formation 
process. Continuing education is necessary, spiritual growth is necessary. One respon- 
dent wrote: 

"The formation process never ends and opportunities for it through spiritual re- 
treats, continuing education, and especially through a community of clergy must be 
available all through one's active years." 

And another wrote: 

"Finally, regular continuing education experiences, from the College of Preachers 
to weekends of Jungian psychology have been a regular part of my life." 

Secondly, we need the ongoing nurture and self-care of spiritual direction. 

Continuing Life Care 

page 86 

During the years when the program of life is the consolidation of the ego-consciousness 
and the building of a life in the world, one may not feel much need for a spiritual 
companion. If there is peer support and collegiality, that may serve for spiritual 
companionship in these years. 

When people reach their late thirties, however — or sometime later perhaps — 
there is the need for more intentional relationship and companionship in the spiritual 
journey. Levinson advocates a mentor relationship, somewhat like the relationship with 
a mentor one had (or should have had) in early adult life. For clergy, this might be a 

senior priest or retired priest. 

When persons are in their late thirties, they are helped by mentors to move toward 
individuation, the process of becoming more their own persons. . . . Developmental- 
ly, mentor relationships are significant because they provide situations in which the 
recipients can identify with someone who embodies qualities which they themselves 

desire. 15 

At this period of life, the transition toward the mid-life change of focus begins, and the 

companionship of someone older will be helpful. 

Finally, in the early years of ministry most of us have felt ourselves to be de- 
pendent on the Church, the bishop, the 'deployment office' and such people and offices 
who were 'over' us and could help us or neglect us. Many of us who have suffered a 
crisis of some kind — and some who may not — have learned that we cannot afford to be 
in that dependency mode. We have to cultivate autonomy, for our own health and the 
health of the church we serve. It is true that we cannot do everything ourselves, we 
cannot make our own luck entirely, we are dependent to a degree. On the other hand, 
we do make some of our luck, and that is by caring for ourselves; we do help ourselves 
by developing autonomous lives. Only by caring for ourselves can we develop the 
interdependence that is the relationship we should have, both toward judicatories and 
toward our parishioners. 

One respondent reflects that 

"both crises helped me (and help me) to see myself apart from the jobs which I have 
had. It has been wonderful to realize that I can think about and pursue positions 
different from the present one. When I came to the realization that I didn't have to 

15 Studzinski (1985), pp. 48-49. 

Continuing Life Care 

page 87 

be a parish priest, and, more recently, that I could be a parish priest, I took that as a 
gift ... I have also experienced a deepening of my sense of God's presence and 
providence during this most recent crisis. Having found the Church to be less than 
dependable, I have learned to turn more to God." 

We recall the statement of a woman priest who learned through crisis and struggle that 

". . .the Church will never be the mother that I didn't have in my youth — in fact, 
she's more the mother that I did have: consuming, insensitive, all-encompassing. 
The best mother I'm ever going to have is me." 

A healthy autonomy leading to a proper relationship of interdependence with 
our parishioners will be able to set and keep limits. One respondent lists as one of the 

things he learned the hard way 

"Control of schedule — that is, the ability to say NO. This seems to be learned 'by 
the seat of the pants,' and perhaps there is no other way. But nobody says anything 
about it — one is given the impression that a 'good' pastor always says 'Yes.'" 

Thus we come back to the matter of building partnership rather than perpetuating the 
old heroic model of parental clergy. This is a good place to end this chapter, because 
this struggle for partnership is a journey toward maturity for both ourselves and the 
church people among whom we minister. 

page 88 

Chapter 4. 

My experience on my journey, with reflection and study, together with the gen- 
erous responses of many clergy to my survey, lead me to some conclusions. 

I. Clergy in Mid-Life 

First, I hope that bishops and clergy — and laity as well — will understand that 

the mid-life transition is of great importance to the ministry. It is a change of focus, 
from the ego-centred perspective of early adult life to the more holistic perspective of 
the second journey. In a culture such as ours, which places value on youth, this other 
perspective may seem alien but is much needed. Our culture pursues the program of the 
first journey and finds aging difficult to tolerate, but desperately needs the balance and 
humaneness of the second journey perspective. There is no reason that clergy who by 
passing through this transition should not become of much greater value to ministry in 
Church and society — except in a Church that is youth-oriented and spiritually taken in 
by the corporate world's approach to life. 

It is not so much a waning vigor — the loss of youth — that changes the pace of a 
person's work in the second journey; it is more a sense of finitude, a recognition of 
limits, and a growing preference for being over doing. 'Parish programs' — conceived 
in the world's terms as 'units of production' that justify our breathing, eating, and ta- 
king money — may suffer from this different attitude to life. Ministry, however, as lead- 
ing the people of God to view their lives as gifted and valued in and of themselves, is 

On the way to that renewal of life in the second journey, the transition can come 
as a shock. It may manifest itself as crisis in the conditions of life, or employment, or 
professional confidence. In the lives and souls of clergy, such a crisis can have very 
serious dimensions. It can affect a priest in that inmost domain of personal faith, on 
which hangs self-worth as well as professional effectiveness. Often the circumstances 

Clergy in Mid-Life 

page 89 

of personal and professional life which occasion or cause or accompany the interior 
crisis could be disastrous by themselves. When the crisis of faith and vocation is al- 
ready sapping the person's resources of energy and vitality, we have a situation that 
calls for wise and compassionate help. 

In Chapter 2 we read what a few respondents said about appropriate help for 
clergy in crisis. I contend that the Church has a role to play in taking care of its 
ministers — caring for the care-givers — because they are sisters and brothers in Christ, 
as well as because the interests of effective ministry are thereby served. 

The issue of giving and receiving care, however, has the same ambiguity re- 
garding the Church's care of clergy as clergy are surely familiar with in the exercise of 
ministry with laity. That is, clergy must not expect the bishop or other clergy — or any- 
one else — to care for them in the sense of taking from them their responsibility for their 
actions and their caring for themselves. (We have only one Savior, and he saves us 
from sin and death, not from life.) None of us would like to see the clergy become 
more dependent or passive. 'Help,' therefore, must be appropriate to each person, and 
aim to promote personal authenticity, autonomy and spiritual freedom in interdepen- 

I do not assume that other clergy are or will be affected in the same way I have 
been. The interior desolation may not be felt as deeply by others, the external circum- 
stances may not be as frightful. Yet, to the extent that others may be wounded, fright- 
ened, discouraged or worn out, they need the kinds of help that are appropriate to their 

From the survey responses and my experience I draw three headings under 
which to consider appropriate kinds of help: collegial support, practical help, and spirit- 
ual help (meaning therapy or spiritual direction or both). 

A. Collegial Support 

"Most of all they need a community that recognizes crises and shares the hope 
of God's love," wrote one respondent. When crisis erupts, it is too late to build firm 
bridges across our isolation; but there often are latent possibilities of companionship 

Clergy in Mid-Life 

page 90 

that need only be grasped. When clergy enter a period of crisis, they need compassion 
and understanding from their peers. The problem of isolation and competitiveness in- 
terferes with our care for each other in the relationship of peers. A sense of collegiality, 
with the shared understanding that we are engaged in a profession that can be hazard- 
ous, can avoid the worst effects of a priest losing self-esteem — which is an especially 
acute suffering in some kinds of crisis. 

Obviously, the time to build community and collegiality is during the relatively 
quiet periods. Relationships of trust and respect that we have nurtured can be of great 
comfort in times of turmoil. The building of collegiality and community is the responsi- 
bility of clergy ourselves first, and also of the bishops as both encouraging and setting 
the working atmosphere in their dioceses. 

Diocesan clergy hold periodic gatherings or retreats, and these can be occasions 
for building community and collegiality. Along with many others, I am guilty of taking 
a detached attitude to these — the program is only of peripheral interest, I may be too 
busy when the time comes, I don't like the late-night bull sessions with posturing cler- 
gy, and so on. Perhaps this resistance, which feeds our isolation from each other, 
needs to be addressed directly by the bishop and the organizers of the retreat. It needs 
to be taken into account in both the publicity for the event and in planning what happens 
in the event itself. In any case, building a collegial appreciation of each other and our 
gifts is our responsibility, and the bishops must help set the tone. 

Aside from such diocesan occasions, there are many occasions in which clergy 
gather together, and they can make many more. We must make the effort. The lives we 
save may be our own. 

B. Practical Help 

A resource that matters a great deal is money. As health insurance, we can easi- 
ly know what is available to us. For other emergencies, the bishop may be the nearest 
source we can appeal to for funds, and we need to know that we will be received with a 
modicum of charity. We all know that money will be a prime consideration in making 
our choices and helping ourselves. We need willing assistance from our bishops. 

Clergy in Mid-Life 

page 91 

If the job goes bad, clergy and their families may need somewhere to go while 
they look for another job. We all know this is not a matter of a couple of weeks: the job 
search is a full-time occupation and takes months to do. Meanwhile there are family 
matters that must be considered — spouse's job, children's school arrangements, and so 
on. The family is already under stress and does not need any more. 

A priest whose job is terminating probably has need of financial resources to 
cover living costs until another job is found. This may also call for some astute, sensi- 
tive and informed financial counseling. Some bishops have considerable financial re- 
sources available in their discretionary accounts, others do not. It helps a priest deal 
with his or her circumstances to know that the bishop is supportive and willing to do 
what is possible. 

The smartest thing — or sometimes the only thing — a priest can do about em- 
ployment may be to take an assessment of his or her skills and aptitudes and seek a job 
in the secular world. Given the 'gridlock' of clergy at present — which is not going 
away soon and may not for a long while — one is forced to be realistic. Bishops and 
clergy can help by not regarding this as failure, as 'apostasy,' or as a winnowing of 
another misfit. The attitude we countenance and perpetuate among clergy, which is an 
'in-group' attitude and somewhat 'elitist' but at bottom may be defensive, needs to be 
addressed by bishops and clergy. Creative ways of including clergy who are in secular 
employment must be found: they need to be included in clergy gatherings and they need 
to be used in the parishes. At bottom it is an attitude problem among clergy. Many of us 
need to re-examine our theology of the 'call' — and probably the best forum would be in 
committed, 'down-and-dirty' discussions with priests in secular employment. 

In time of crisis a priest may need professional counseling to help him or her 
identify and deal with personal dimensions and gaps in the mental health area. The ec- 
clesiastical judicatory should make sure that financial resources are available, adequate 
to support a counseling regimen for an extended time if necessary. Medical insurance 
plans must include this item so that everybody knows it is within reach. If addiction is 
part of the problem (it never is the whole problem), then treatment in a program for ad- 

Clergy in Mid-Life 

page 92 

diction — preferably in a residential treatment center — must be available on the insurance 
plan, along with extended counseling when that is needed. 

C. Spiritual Help 

In the survey responses we read that clergy need help to face and not avoid their 
problems, their questionings, their competitiveness. They need to learn to work togeth- 
er as colleagues. In time of crisis, they need help naming the crisis. All this, it seems to 
me, translates into spiritual direction. In Chapter 3, 1 said that spiritual direction (or 
companionship) in some form is a necessity in the formation process and an ongoing 
necessity throughout the years of ministry. I said that spiritual direction and psycho- 
therapy are not necessarily far apart, that especially in time of crisis they may go hand 
in hand, and that spiritual direction often needs to be as tough and as insistent as 
therapy is. 

Spiritual companionship is all the more important in the particular spiritual suf- 
ferings that can come in mid-life. We recall that mid-life is often a time when one suf- 
fers losses that signal that life hereafter will be different. We must learn to grieve well 
and quickly. We may spend extended periods in the spiritual desert, enduring darkness 
and doubt. We will probably benefit from having a companion with whom we can 
share our inner experience, and out of the sharing new directions for our future can 
emerge. It is not necessarily that we need a guide, one who knows the way and can 
lead through the darkness — in any case, each one's journey is his or her own, the 
sights and the obstacles may be different from those the companion encountered. The 
companionship of someone who can be trusted deeply, however, is invaluable. 

The companion must be a person who is sensitive to what is happening. Be- 
cause of the particular temptations of mid- life, he or she must be a person who has suc- 
cessfully done the work of her/his own midlife transition. Without that experience, the 
companion will not understand much of the mid-life trial. It is a work of great sensitivi- 
ty and charity, this companionship of the spirit, to stay with souls in the desert trials of 

Since we admit that clergy are too often spiritually isolated from each other, ma- 

Sabbatical Leave 

page 93 

king connections between individuals who could be helpful to each other as compan- 
ions on the way is a problem. Is it useless to suggest that the bishop, the Canon to the 
Ordinary, or the Canon Pastor, or some other diocesan person, might be somebody 
who could keep an eye peeled for spiritual connections and affinities between clergy? In 
dioceses that are geographically wide-spread, it is harder to keep track of the spiritual 
condition of the clergy (I am thinking of Colorado, where I grew up; some other dio- 
ceses are even more spread out). In more compact dioceses the effort to keep track and 
make connections is not necessarily pursued with more dedication. The point is, the 
feeling of being alone in our spiritual struggle feeds our isolation from other clergy. To 
know that somebody is interested in our spiritual welfare would go some way to miti- 
gating that isolation. 

II. Sabbatical Leave 

One practice that would be of great help to the mental and spiritual health of the 
clergy is the sabbatical leave. For clergy who are in the spiritual desert as well as for 
those who for the moment are not, the regular sabbatical would provide refreshment 
and rest. It would help avoid some of the worst of the desert experience and maintain a 
healthy distance from concerns of success or failure in the work situation. 

More common in academic life, the sabbatical leave has been introduced in the 
Church in recent years. Still, it is not yet the standard that it should be. Dioceses and 
the national Church both should take it as a priority to make the concept an accepted 
standard among both laity and clergy. I mean that the laity need to understand that cler- 
gy get a sabbatical at regular intervals: it should be an article in the standard letter of 
call, and backed up by diocesan policy. Every priest in active ministry should have a 
sabbatical of five months (with a sixth month of vacation) in every seven year period, 
as an understood right. 

Of course, lives do not actually follow a seven-year schedule — changes of em- 
ployment, family circumstances, and other conditions intervene — so it should be the 
individual's option to reschedule. Special provision might be made for an extended 

Sabbatical Leave 

page 94 

course such as an advanced degree, so that the time away could be spread out rather 
than all at once. The principle should stand, though, and parishes should be made to 
understand that it is a standard. 

Many clergy do not appreciate the value of the sabbatical. Most especially, those 
work-horses who need it most are likely not to think they should take a sabbatical. But 
if the concept were to become standard, accepted by laity and clergy, and encouraged 
by the bishops, even some indispensable pastors would eventually take the idea. 

In some dioceses, the application form for continuing education grants asks the 
applicant to outline his or her overall continuing education program and goals. The ap- 
plicant is asked to explain how this course or event, for which the grant is to be used, 
fits into the overall plan and goal. This is all very business-like, and some applicants 
may have ready answers to these kinds of questions. I submit, however, that it tells 
against the mental and spiritual health of many clergy. It publishes the message to the 
clergy that their noses must be kept to the grind-stone (we don't give out money for fri- 
volities!), and discourages their sense of being whole human beings. 

Suppose, for example, that a priest has a love for Louis XIV furniture and 
would like some time off to study it in some concentrated way; suppose that a priest 
would like to spend some time with a master wood-carver or blacksmith, learning the 
craft; suppose a priest and his or her family would love to take a camper on an extended 
trip around the country. Why would these not qualify as suitable for the church's pro- 
vision? Are they educational? Of course they are. Are they life-enhancing? Why not? 

One survey respondent related that, at a time of crisis for him, his bishop sent 
him on an extended retreat, which proved to be the religious experience of his life (p. 
54). The way he tells of this, we don't know whether he had financial help from his 
diocese — either for himself or his parish. This is another kind of leave, however, that 
would be difficult to place within the straitjacket of educational plans and goals. He 
needed it — what more could be asked? 

After six years and more of labor in the vineyard — being on call at all hours, 
struggling with budgets and Vestries and recalcitrant parishioners, sometimes being 

Sabbatical Leave 

page 95 

'inspired' but in most weeks reinventing the wheel for the Sunday sermon — every 
priest deserves a break. More than that, the priest needs to think of him- or herself as a 
human person, needs to change the routine of life for a while, needs to feel some dif- 
ferent stimuli. 

Financial arrangements are of great importance.The viability of the financial 
provision means the difference between success and failure of the sabbatical program. 
Few clergy are able to save up for a sabbatical. The annual vacation is often no more 
than just possible on a clergy salary. Parishes generally find themselves put out of joint 
to fund their own expenses when the rector takes a sabbatical, for they must provide for 
supply clergy while the rector is away. In most dioceses the funds available for contin- 
uing education of the clergy are not sufficient to cover the additional expenses of clergy 
sabbatical leaves. Still, where there is a will, there is a way. Whether through ear- 
marked endowments, savings plans for parishes and clergy with some matching funds, 
or some other creative solutions, the sabbatical leave is to be made possible. The big- 
gest hurdle is for all of us to understand that it is highly valuable in the overall interest 
of good ministry. 

In my case, I would have loved to take a sabbatical long before it was virtually 
enforced by circumstances. The main factors that prevented me were: I could not see 
where the money would come from; my working-class parish was on a long decline — 
since before I came to it — and I knew the underground powers would resent any ex- 
penditure for my benefit; I could not imagine being away from my family for months at 
a time, and because of the financial problems did not regard it worth trying to work out 
some creative solution to that. Sabbatical leave is still not commonly accepted as a 
standard practice, even among clergy, so I regarded it as a 'luxury' I would have to do 
without. This kind of self-denial did nothing to help my self-esteem. If diocesan policy 
had made it standard — with some financial help included, I would have had some 
ground to stand on with my Vestry. 

I can relate that, with help from the diocesan continuing education funds, my 
family and I had a two-week trip to Norway — a longed-for 'roots' trip for me — eight 
years ago. As short as it was, it was a great refreshment for us, and life-enhancing. 

Spiritual Companionship 

page 96 

Bishops and others involved in creating diocesan policy, therefore, should 
make the sabbatical leave a standard of policy, including a creative way of working out 
the financial arrangements. 

III. Spiritual Companionship 

At several junctures and in many passages in these pages I have advocated the 

discipline of spiritual direction as a need that ministers have throughout the years of 
active ministry. I have often substituted the term 'spiritual companionship,' which it 
seems to me more adequately suggests what it really is. 'Direction' suggests a relation- 
ship of master to disciple rather than one of peers. 

I maintain that in some matters the spiritual companion needs to be insistent, 
even challenging. There is an area of concern in which spiritual companionship and 
psychological counseling overlap. This includes anger, power, parental relations, sexu- 
ality, and so on. The spiritual companion should be prepared to enter that area and ex- 
plore it at least part way. If referral to psychotherapy is then called for, let it be done; 
but the spiritual dimension of it has been claimed and can be maintained. Even in these 
sensitive matters, though, companionship along the way is a better model for the rela- 
tionship than 'direction.' 

I have advocated the provision for spiritual companionship during the mid-life 
transition (pp. 37f.), in the years of formation in ministry (pp. 73ff.), and in the years 
in between — if any (pp. 85f.). There are many ways, modes and formats in which spi- 
ritual companionship can be offered and received. It may be in the form of a one-on- 
one relationship, a friendly lunch once a month or some such arrangement; but it may 
also take the form of a peer group that meets with some regularity and is doggedly in- 
tentional about why it meets. In such a group setting, members learn to be caring of 
each other — spiritual companions of each other — including how and when to challenge 
each other. These matters were discussed on pp. 78ff. 

For some modes of spiritual companionship, such as leadership of a peer sup- 
port group, compensation of the leader is a virtual necessity (I discussed this on p. 79). 


page 97 

It is often hard work, and needs to be recognized as not only hard but valuable service. 
In a capitalist economy, money signals value both to the payor and payee. The Church 
almost always gets by on the cheap, to our frequent disservice and disadvantage. How 
this compensation is provided for is a matter of local option and creativity, but dioceses 
should be prepared to support it in some measure. 

It is true that clergy must take responsibility for their spiritual welfare, including 
seeking out appropriate spiritual companions. I claim, though, that there are not enough 
ministers (lay or clerical) who are adequately trained in this ministry. My experience is 
that it is far too casual. Some clergy are known to be practiced at it, and are in more de- 
mand than they can reasonably take. Most of those could benefit from more training, 
and more clergy (and laity) could be trained in it; a diocese would do well to foster this 
ministry with encouragement and financial help. 

IV. Formation 

In Chapter 3 we saw what quite a few clergy had to say about formation, most 
of them from the vantage point of many years' experience. Many responses to the 
questions on formation were very thoughtful and insightful. 

Job-placement in the first positions after ordination is clearly a matter for con- 
cern. Not one voice was heard in favor of placing the newly ordained in the lonely rural 
missions (pp 65, 67). Generally we favor working with a senior priest, although some 
serious reservations were expressed. The necessity of a mentor for the newly ordained 
is agreed (pp. 63ff.), but the mentoring needs to be 'open and honest' (p. 63). We all 
know that the rector we work for may not be suitable for that kind of mentoring rela- 
tionship. So one respondent called for some kind of creative arrangement drawing on 
the talents and experience of senior clergy (p. 66). 

Some of the issues that were identified to be addressed in the course of forma- 
tion were: stewardship of time and life (pp 69-72), addiction (pp 14f., 75f., 80), and 
conflict management and resolution (pp 80ff.). See also the survey (Appendix, page 
108) under the first question of Part I: the "wish there had been" column is interesting. 

page 98 

V. Finally— 

The Church has a role to play in taking care for its ministers — caring for the 

care-givers. Appropriate care for the clergy at all stages of their active lives is the 
Church's duty because clergy are brothers and sisters in the human family, and sisters 
and brothers in Christ as well; it also serves the Church's interests of effective ministry. 
Appropriate care is exercised in the interest of the well-being of each member of the 
clergy at every stage. Those who exercise this care will be interested in getting them 
started in ministry in such a way that they will care for themselves while they minister 
to the people; interested in their well-being as they grow in their ministries; interested in 
their well-being especially in the years 35-45, which seem to be the years most likely to 
experience crisis (see Appendix, page 1 10) — or in any case, whenever they find them- 
selves in the desert experience. Appropriate care for the clergy will always mean aiming 
to leave their freedom intact, but will offer suggestions and opportunities, and encour- 
age interdependence and collegiality among the clergy. People tend to treat others as 
they perceive themselves to be treated. It generally can be expected that clergy will be 
loving and caring to the people in their parishes as they perceive they are loved and 
cared for by the Church they serve and love. 

page 99 

Hope for the Future 

In the depths of the "dark wood" experience mid- way in the course of our life, 
there is little hope that better days are ahead. We are at least intermittently occupied with 
getting through this day or this week, and now and then we wonder if life will ever feel 
better than this. 

Janice Brewi gives this succinct statement of the goal that lies before us: 
"Individuation is becoming whole, reaching one's full potential, and surrendering to the 
reasons for one's very existence, one's reason for being, one's call." 1 These are all 
happy terms, joyful terms. If the program of the second journey is individuation, or in- 
tegration of the Self, then life should get better. Integration should be a progress toward 
happiness and joy, one should begin to feel more 'at home' with oneself than ever be- 
fore, and at peace with God. If the journey begins in a crisis, the crisis is largely the 
shock of experiencing a change of course. It takes time, reflection and a growing self- 
awareness to get used to a changed point of view on life. The questions, Who am I? 
and What am I for? begin to be answered differently, but it was uncomfortable even to 
raise them again. Disorientation must precede reorientation. That was the cause of the 
crisis, but joy is to follow. 

The survey question about where we are now, how things are better now, was 
the one to receive the least sustained attention. Perhaps not many of us are far enough 
through the crisis period to see the light. One who did respond, and does bask in light 

at least for the moment, says this: 

Now, after all this, I'm also finding that the . . . life that served me so well in the 
past, is no longer providing the nourishment that I now seek. I'm not sure how one 
starts. . ., but I'm open to the possibility of relationship that grows in commitment 
and intimacy. This is exciting to me. 

. . .I'm very grateful for the opportunity to share with you in this way, especially as 
I see the light that is everywhere around me. Thank God the darkness is gone for 

1 Brewi and Brennan (1989), p. 234. 

page 100 

now. I'm even having a wonderful time in my work — and working less! 
There are no eternal promises here, only: "the darkness is gone for now." The past is 

recognized as no longer adequate, there is new life and openness to new love, there is 

even gratitude for the opportunity to respond to a questionnaire! I believe that signals 

growth and hope! 

Another respondent declares his learnings: 

I know that life is precious, that my life is precious and that as I care for 
myself, nurturing a balanced life of work and rest, aloneness and relationships, 
prayer and worship, I am more at peace with myself, my family and my work in the 

Renewed creativity? My preaching is now often 'inspired,' I'm told. I enjoy it, 
in fact I really love sharing the message of our Lord's healing and love. I can truly 
give of myself in preaching and worship in a way I never could before. 

It can sound trite, but "mv life is precious" is a momentous learning. Coming out of a 
crisis of faith, the fires of temptation and trial, to realize not only that life — in general, 
as an abstraction — is precious but that my life is precious, is a revelation of grace. 

Since my view of our priestly life has become much more holistic and sits more 
loosely to the 'churchly' aspect of it, I specifically encouraged respondents to declare 
new love, new creativity, new re-creative activities. I am somewhat saddened, there- 
fore, that this respondent concentrated on 'newness' only in terms of ministry — speci- 
fically, preaching. I am glad that his preaching is better, that it is 'inspired,' and that he 
loves it. Still, I hope there is more to his life than that. 

Another respondent also concentrated on his learnings for ministry: 

This experience has had a number of effects on my ministry, as I perceive it to be. 
These include: 

— Much greater sensitivity to those experiencing loneliness. I am less likely to dis- 
miss the problem ("why not go the YWCA for a class?") and less likely to some- 
how try to "fix" the problem. I tend now to try to let the person verbalize the feel- 
ings, and attempt an 'active listening' approach in response. 
— Ability to help divorced persons seeking a new marriage in the Church. I virtual- 
ly always reveal my own experience of having been divorced (by title, more or 
less — additional comment as seems to be helpful) , and find that it puts people at 
greater ease, and makes pre-marital counseling a great deal easier for the divorced 
person(s) seeking a new start. It does NOT mean that I am uncritical as a pastor, 

page 101 

but simply that it takes away the Tm better than you are' tone which can occur (in 

reality or in people's feelings/perceptions of reality!) in the pre-marital process. 

— Ability to relate to children from homes affected by divorce. 

— Need to take care of myself, with a deeper awareness that when I am worn out 

and worn down, I can minister effectively with no one at all. Those nice words are 

more real to me than before. 

— An appreciation of the very real support I received from one particular priest 

friend throughout, even as he was experiencing crises as well, and the courage of 

my bishop in being directive even as he was supportive. His involvement was 

limited, but came at a key moment and essentially protected my professional 


These are all worthwhile learnings, and undoubtedly add to his effectiveness in 
ministry. There is no reason not to be glad that suffering has issued in a more sensitive 
and compassionate ministry. Still, as with the previous respondent, I hope there is 
more to this man's life than ministry, and that renewal has affected all of it. 

The most extended reflection on the renewal of life after crisis is this one, which 

is truly heart-warming and full of hope: 

Looking over my life, and the crisis times, puts me in focus, and there is so 
much that caused me pain and problems, and yet, I am grateful for it all. Grateful 
because it has brought me to the life I now have, unburdened by unreal expectations 
of myself and others, and also a clearer understanding as to what Grace and for- 
giveness are in relation to being very human. 

I have also begun to understand the idea of Stewardship being a real gratitude 
for all the gifts God has given to us all in this life. People are given the gift of life to 
live and share with one another. How often we choose to abuse that trust when we 
are only seeking our own ideas as to the purpose of God. I no longer see just good 
or evil, but see, rather, the tragic in life. Even with the best of intentions, so often, 
evil is the product of our actions. Life is a gift, and ministry is being that gift to 
others. I listen more, and talk less. I put aside political ambitions to become God's 
agent wherever I am. 

One other thing has changed, and that is I see the church from a greater vantage, 
not just the Episcopal church, but the greater Church. One of the amusing things is, 
as I thought back over the years, the groups that have really strengthened my faith 
were either secular or of clergy from other denominations! I am not just thinking 
about 'mainline' churches, but some from Charismatic and fundamentalist clergy. 
With these groups we came together with what we had in common, not on what we 
disagreed about. 

My life took a turning point about two years ago when my wife and I received a 
call to , which is basically a mission field. I had been in for 12 years, 

page 102 

and had about ten years left before retirement. We visited here about six years 
previously and fell in love with the country and the people. Two years ago we made 
the decision to come, and we have grown more and more aware of God's purpose. 
It is a risky operation, but it is better than forms and politics, for we are constantly 
reminded of the beauty of creation, and of the basic message of the gospel. It was a 
decision to go back to beginnings, we started out in a small mission in Montana. 
This is a place for mature ministry, to give balance to places that usually are stuck 
with people out of seminary who stay only a few years. Here God is putting to 
work all the knowledge, experience, and living, to do a new thing in his Creation. 

Here I think we have a witness to wholeness, that integration of the personality 
toward which the soul strives. This man's life is coming together, the various strands 
and themes weaving together toward a sense of wholeness and a vision of God's gra- 
cious sovereignty. This is a man who is becoming whole, reaching his full potential, 
and surrendering to the reasons for his very existence, his reason for being, his call. 
This is not to say that there is no further development for this soul, only that he has 
attained a balance and a maturity that gives hope and promise to those with whom he 
ministers — including us who read his account. God is using this man — and his wife — 
to renew the creation. 

page 103 


J. Brewi and A. Brennan. (1989). Celebrate Mid-Life: Jungian Archetypes and Mid- 
life Spirituality. New York, Crossroad. 

T. S. Eliot (1943). Four Quartets. New York, Harcourt, Brace and Company. 

J. W. Fowler. (1981). Stages ofFaith.San Francisco, Harper & Row. 

U. T. Holmes. (1971). The Future Shape of Ministry. New York, Seabury Press. 

D. Keirsey and M. Bates. (1978). Please Understand Me .Del Mar CA, Prometheus 

T. Merton. (1957). The Strange Islands.Nev/ York, New Directions Books. 

A. W. Schaef and D. Fassel. (1988). The Addictive Organization.San Francisco, 
Harper & Row. 

J. Shea. The God Who Fell From Heaven.Argus Books. 

R. Studzinski, O.S.B. (1985). Spiritual Direction and Midlife Development. CYAcago, 
Loyola University Press. 

R. S. Sullender. (1989). Losses in Later Life: A New Way of Walking With 
God.New York, Paulist Press. 

J. D. Whitehead and E. E. Whitehead. (1991). The Promise of Partners hip. San 
Francisco, Harper Collins. 

Ministry Formation and Crisis in the Experience of Clergy (1991-92) 


This first sheet (both sides) can be filled out fairly quickly. 

Please mail it back to me in the enclosed envelope. 


1) What constituted formation for ministry during your seminary years? 
[] An academic course [] Field work 

[] Other. 

How did the Church help you get started on a 


life of ministry during your first 

3-to-5 years out of seminary? 

Available I used this 

Not Available, but 


wish it had been 

Mentoring by an experienced priest 




Diocesan program for newly ordained? 





Was the bishop involved in any way? 



Life-Aime-management guidance 




Organized Peer Group 




Informal Peer Group 




Spiritual director 




Other - please specify 




On a scale of 1 (great) to 10 (terrible), how would you rate the help you got in learning to 
manage your life as a minister? ( ) 

2) All of us, whether young, middle-aged, or retired, have some experience of faith and 
vocation. For some of us this includes crisis. In one way or another, a seam or a tear 
opens in the fabric of life, calling us to deeper reflection or to a change in what we are 
doing with the only life we have. The specific ways this intrudes on our lives varies as 
widely as our personalities and circumstances; the following list is not for statistical 
purposes, but is intended only as a quick checklist, and may not include your experience of 
trial. Please consider telling the story of your experience, in Part n. 

Please check as many of the following as may be in your personal story; identify 
primary crisis with 1 , secondary or following ones with 2 - 
Struggle with alcohol or other drugs 
Marriage break-up 

Needed to move and found the "system" unresponsive 
Serious depression 
Wondered if I believed anything at all 
Left church ministry in some disillusionment 

page 105 

Some other, that you identify as a crisis. 

What age (range) were you around the time of crisis? 
How many years had you been ordained? 

3 ) (If you have been through a crisis experience, you are probably aware that the most 
sensitive part of it is what it comes to mean as a part of your life story. In fact, it is not 
fully human and personal until we can attribute meaning to it. The question of meaning is 
better dealt with in story form, and appears in Part II [second sheet]. I hope you will take 
the time to answer it.) 

4) Please reflect on what is emerging after the crisis. 
Do you have different perspectives on life and ministry? 


Do you have new tools for life and/or ministry? 

Spiritual counselor 

More work 

Less work 

What new or renewed creativity is showing up to manifest a renewal of life and grace? 

Artistic/creative endeavor new reclaimed 




Do you have a new or renewed love in your life? 

Say more? 

Results with regard to job, and professional life? 

Renewal for your prayer/spiritual life? 

Additional comments on any of these matters? 

Ministry Formation and Crisis in the Experience of Clergy (1991-92) 


The first sheet of this inquiry is quickly completed, I hope. PLEASE SEND IT BACK 
RIGHT AWAY. This second sheet takes more time and reflection, and more writing. 
(Written responses give you maximum control to say only what you feel you want to say.) 
I hope that, if any part of it applies to you , you will take the time anyway. Your influence 
on the environment in which we work will be of more weight if you do. 

(I hope you will complete and mail it before New Years, 1992!) 

You may write out or type or use your word-processor for your responses, 
as may be most convenient to you. Please attach your papers to this page 
of questions and mail them back to me. And THANKS! 

1) Thinking about how the Church helped you (or didn't) as you began a life of ministry: 

a) Please give me the benefit of your recommendation for the formation of newly 
ordained clergy. 

b) What specific issues have you had to learn the hard way, that somebody could 
have saved you pain and grief by helping you with early on? 

2) All of us, whether young, middle-aged, or retired, have some experience of faith and 
vocation. For some of us this includes crisis. Some not-uncommon crises were listed in 
Part I of this inquiry. Now — 

Please tell briefly the story of your experience -the shape of the crisis in the context 
of your life and ministry (what was it that happened?). And what was the impact on your 
marriage and family? 

3) "Midway in the journey of our life I found myself in a dark wood, for the straight way 
was lost" (Inferno, Canto I). Dante's image suggests that many of us experience some 
form of crisis midway in our journey of this life. If this is your experience, you are 
probably aware that the most sensitive part of it is what it comes to mean as a part of your 
life story. In fact, it is not fully human and personal until we can attribute meaning to it. 

a) If this is your experience, what did it mean to you? 

b) In terms of your professional life, how did your crisis make you feel? 

c) How did your prayer/spiritual life fare through the crisis? 

d) What issues in your life did the crisis compel you to focus on (family of origin 
issues, feminist or male consciousness issues, self-esteem and self-care, other)? 

e) What frame(s) of reference helped you understand yourself and your suffering 
(e.g., Myers-Briggs personality types, 12-step program, other meaning system)? 

f) What are you doing about your issues, through or following the crisis? 

(continued overleaf) 

page 107 

Regarding crisis management as you experienced it: 

I agreed to 
Intervenor this resolution 

Other priest 
Spiritual director 
Other (specify) 

I disagreed 

with this resolution 


g) Did you feel that the intervention was weighted more in favor of really 
helping/redeeming you , or more in the interests of the institution ? 

h) Please give me the benefit of your recommendations for helping clergy deal with 
their crises (recognizing that crises are very individual). 

4) Further reflections on what is emerging after the crisis, since you filled out Part I of this 

a) What different perspectives do you have on life and ministry? 

b) What new or renewed creativity is showing up to manifest a renewal of life and 

Additional comments on any of these matters? 

Please attach your papers to this page of questions and mail them back to me. 


If you have further comments to offer, you may call me collect at 617-547-2030. 

Please mail this paper and your papers back to me: 

The Rev. James Knudson, 1 St John's Road, #1, Cambridge MA 02138. 

Survey Questionnaire - Results 

page 108 

(Responses, both tabulated numbers and written-in comments, are given in bold type.) 


l.a) What constituted formation for ministry during your seminary years? 

40 An academic course 

56 Field work 

33 Other: CPE - 7 

model/mentor - 3 

spiritual direction - 2 

job - 1 

wife - 1 

a year of mentored lay work - 1 

Order of St Anne - 1 

Society of St Margaret - 1 

Society of St John the Evangelist 

seminary - 6 
summer work -3 
intern year - 2 
Leave of Absence 
health work - 1 
therapy - 1 
Pastoral Theology 

l.b) How did the Church help you get started on a healthy life of ministry during your 
first 3-to-5 years out of seminary? 

[In the following tabulation, results in the first two columns are compromised. 

Some respondents checked both columns, some checked one or the other. To 

clarify the difference between columns, the first column should have been headed, 

"available (but I didn't use it)."] 


Mentoring by an experienced priest 3 3 

Diocesan program for newly ordained? 1 3 

Specify: parish development - 3 

internship - 4 (not helpful - 2) 
Recently Ordained Clergy program - 2 
new + experienced clergy meetings - 1 
monthly with Bp for Bible study - 1 
visit from Archdeacon (not helpful) - 1 

Was the bishop involved in any way? 

Yes - 15 

No -26 

I used this Not Available, but 

Resource wish it had been 

43 16 

15 30 

conflict resolution - 3 
Diocesan meetings - 3 
2-year program - 1 
annual 1/2 day - 1 
Bp + deacons - 1 

Life-Aime-management guidance 




Organized Peer Group 




Informal Peer Group 




Spiritual director 




Survey Questionnaire - Results 

page 109 

Other - please specify. 

life experience - 1. laity - 3 

parish support group - 2 cursillo - 2 

clergy clubs (not helpful) - 1 friends - 1 
career counseling - 1 priest - 4 

used AA sponsor - 1 therapy - 3 

negative model - 1 
hard to know what was needed - 1 
On a scale of 1 (great) to 10 (terrible), how would you rate the help you got in learning to 
manage your life as a minister? 

Number of responses 


1 (great) 

5 1/2! 
10 (terrible) 


2) Please check as many of the following as may be in your personal story - 

primary secondary 

Struggle with alcohol or other drugs 7 4 

Marriage break-up 14 3 

Needed to move and found the "system" unresponsive 9 10 

Serious depression 4 10 

Wondered if I believed anything at all 3 9 

Left church ministry in some disillusionment 7 5 

Some other, that you identify as a crisis 19 responses 

lost job - 5 

parish/clergy friction or power struggle 

vocational questions - 1 

moved out of rectory - 1 

getting away from "spiritual roots" - 1 

aging, parents (move to nursing home) - 

financial trouble • 
burn out - 1 
identity of priest 
death of a child - 
having baby - 1 

Survey Questionnaire - Results 

page 110 

What age (range) were you around the time of crisis? 















} This period from age mid-30's to mid-40's 
} appears to be the time of greatest liability. 

How many years had you been ordained? 

0-5: 12; 5-10: 14; 10-15: 9; 15-20: 10; 20-25: 4; 25-30: 4. 

[This question seems to have been rendered useless by many respondents misread- 
ing it to mean how many years they have now been ordained. Comparing age at 
time of crisis and number of years ordained, on the same response, makes non- 
sense in many cases.] 

3 ) [The question of meaning is better dealt with in story form, and appears in Part II.] 

4) Please reflect on what is emerging after the crisis. 

Do you have different perspectives on life and ministry? "yes" - 28 
Specify? 37 comments: 

took work outside church - 11 

more compassionate - 3 

know I will survive, with patience and faith - 2 

stopped taking responsibility for everyone else - 2 

take responsibility for self and own behavior - 2 

more open to my needs - 2 

sense of humor - 2 

Jesus Christ, spiritual renewal - 1 

learning detachment from results - 1 

new appreciation of God and people - 1 

converted to personal faith in Jesus Christ - 1 

God-centred rather than Church-centred - 1 

more honest with self and others - 1 

know that ministry can become an idol - 1 

setting limits & truth-telling are part of health - 1 

need to be doing something other than parish ministry - 1 

more mature - 1 

learned not to avoid conflict - 1 

became open to receiving help - 1 vital to have support - ' 

Survey Questionnaire - Results 

page 111 

Do you have new tools for life and/or ministry? 

1 5 Spiritual counselor 

1 2 More work 

8 Less work 

6 changed jobs 

3 therapy 

1 NOT more work 

1 friends outside parish 

What new or renewed creativity is 

showing up to 

Artistic/creative endeavor 














16 [ dance - 1 ] 


Do you have a new or renewed love in your life? 
Say more? 26 comments: 

new marriage - 12; renewed marriage - 6; family - 2; nature 
scripture - 2; value present moment - 2; ready for it - 1. 

- l; 

Results with regard to job, and professional life? 18 comments: 
improved, healthier - 3 
happier in present position - 3 
new opportunities - 2 
Interim Ministry - 1 
work in parish revitalization - 1 
more focussed on job, more time off - 1 
more willing to allow failure w/o feeling personally 
responsible - 1 
courage to search -1 

decided will not work for someone else again - 1 
human services work far more rewarding - 1 
"It saved my professional and personal life" - 1 
found my place as military chaplain - 1 

- 1 

Survey Questionnaire - Results 

page 112 

Renewal for your prayer/spiritual life? 28 comments: 

"Yes" - 12 

"No" - 4 

deepening - 2 

more relaxed - 1 

serious practice of prayer - 


less structured - 1 

meditation through nature - 


contemplation - 1 

longer retreats - 1 

nurture inner life ■ 

Cursillo, Fifth Step ministry - 1 got over anger at God - 1 
doctoral course on spirituality and self-care - 1 


1) Thinking about how the Church helped you (or didn't) as you began a life of ministry: 

a) Please give me the benefit of your recommendation for the formation of newly 
ordained clergy. 

b) What specific issues have you had to learn the hard way, that somebody could 
have saved you pain and grief by helping you with early on? 

[The responses to these questions provided many useful insights and suggestions, 
and are quoted in the text.] 

2) All of us, whether young, middle-aged, or retired, have some experience of faith and 
vocation. For some of us this includes crisis. Please tell briefly the story of your 
experience --the shape of the crisis in the context of your life and ministry (what was it that 
happened?). And what was the impact on your marriage and family? 

[The stories that came in response to this request are quoted at length in the text. I 
am indebted to those who took the time and effort to respond.] 

3) "Midway in the journey of our life I found myself in a dark wood, for the straight way 
was lost" {Inferno, Canto I) 

a) If this is your experience, what did it mean to you? 

b) In terms of your professional life, how did your crisis make you feel? 

c) How did your prayer/spiritual life fare through the crisis? 

d) What issues in your life did the crisis compel you to focus on (family of origin 
issues, feminist or male consciousness issues, self-esteem and self-care, other)? 

e) What frame(s) of reference helped you understand yourself and your suffering 
(e.g., Myers-Briggs personality types, 12-step program, other meaning system)? 

f) What are you doing about your issues, through or following the crisis? 

[The generously offered reflections on this set of questions are given in the text.] 

Survey Questionnaire - Results 

page 113 

Regarding crisis management , as you experienced it: . . . 

[This check-list apparendy did not strike the respondents as meaningful. Very few 
bothered with it at all, and the net result is no information.] 

g) Did you feel that the intervention was weighted more in favor of really 

helping/redeeming you , or more in the interests of the institution ? 
h) Please give me the benefit of your recommendations for helping clergy deal with 

their crises (recognizing that crises are very individual). 

[Such comments as responded to these questions were imbedded in the general 

comments submitted, and are used as appropriate in the text.] 


A Bibliography Prepared 


the Association of Episcopal Field Education Directors 


The Rev. William A. Doubleday, 

Director of Field Education 

and Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology, 

The General Theological Seminary, New York. 

February, 1992. 


Jackson W. Carroll et al,, Handbook for Congregational Studies . Nashville: Abingdon Press, 

Carl S. Dudley, ed., Building Effective Ministry. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1983. 

Carl S. Dudley et al., Carriers of Faith: Lessons from Congregational Studies. Louisville: 
Westminster/John Knox, 1991. 

Giles Ecclestone, ed., for the Grubb Institute, The Parish Church? Explorations in the 
Relationship of the Church and the World. London: Mowbray, 1988. 

James F. Hopewell, Congregation: Stories and Structures . Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987. 

Joseph C. Hough, Jr. and Barbara G. Wheeler, Beyond Clericalism: The Congregation as a 
Focus for Theological Education. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988. 

Loren B. Mead, Critical Moment of Ministry: A Change of Pastors. Washington: Alban 
Institute, 1986. 

C. Ellis Nelson, ed., Congregations: Their Power to Form and Transform. Atlanta: John Knox, 

David A. Roozen, William McKinney, and Jackson W. Carroll, Varieties of Religious Presence: 
Mission in Public Life . New York: Pilgrim Press, 1984/1988. 

Arlin J. Rothauge, Reshaping a Congregation for a New Future . New York: Episcopal Church 
Center, 1985. 

Edward A. White, Saying Goodbye: A Time of Growth for Congregations and Pastors. 
Washington: Alban Institute, 1990. 



Gerald A. Arbuckle, Grieving for Change: A Spirituality for Refounding Gospel Communities. 
London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1991. 

Hugh F. Halverstadt, Managing Church Conflict. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1991. 

Charles R. McCollough, Resolving Conflict with Justice and Peace . New York: Pilgrim, 1991. 


James D. Anderson and Ezra Earl Jones, The Management of Ministry: Leadership. Purpose. 
Structure. Community. New York: Harper and Row, 1978. 

Richard Bondi, Leading God's People: Ethics for the Practice of Ministry . Nashville: Abingdon 
Press, 1989. 

Kennon L. Callahan, Effective Church Leadership: Building on the Twelve Keys . San Francisco: 
Harper and Row, 1990. 

Jackson W. Carroll, As One With Authority: Reflective Leadership in Ministry . Louisville: 
Westminster/John Knox, 1991. 

John C. Harris, Stress. Power and Ministry . Washington: Alban Institute, 1977. 

David S. Lueke, New Designs for Church Leadership. St. Louis: Concordia, 1990. 

Roy M. Oswald and Otto Kroeger, Personality Type and Religious Leadership . Washington: 
Alban Institute, 1988. 

Robert L. Randall, Pastor and Parish: The Psychological Core of Ecclesiastical Conflict. New 
York: Human Services Press, 1988. 

Donna Schaper, Common Sense About Men and Women in the Ministry . Washington: Alban 
Institute, 1990. 

John Snow, Impossible Vocation: Ministry in the Meantime . Cambridge: Cowley, 1988. 



Robert L. Burt, ed., Good News in Growing Churches . New York: Pilgrim Press, 1990. 

George Carey, et al., Planting New Churches. Guilford, U.K.: Eagle, 1991(7). 

William Easum, How to Reach Babv Boomers. Nashville: Abingdon, 1991. 

Alice Mann, Incorporating New Members in the Episcopal Church. 
Place?: Ascension Press, 1983. 

Roy M. Oswald and Speed B. Leas, The Inviting Church: A Study of New Member 
Assimilation . Washington: Alban Institute, 1987. 

Arlin J. Rothauge, Sizing Up a Congregation for New Member Ministry . New York: The 
Episcopal Church Center, undated. 

Tex Sample, U.S. Lifestyles and Mainline Churches: A Key to Reaching People in the '9(Vs. 
Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1990. 


Celia Allison Hahn, Sexual Paradox: Creative Tensions in Our Lives and in Our Congregations. 
New York: Pilgrim Press, 1991. 

Karen Lebacqz and Ronald G. Barton, Sex in the Parish . Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 


Karen L. Bloomquist, The Dream Betrayed: Religious Challenge of the Working Class . 
Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990. 

Robin Gamble, The Irrelevant Church. Eastbourne, U.K.: Monarch, 1991. 

Steele W. Martin, with Priscilla Martin, Blue Collar Ministry . Washington: Alban Institute, 

Tex Sample, Blue-Collar Ministry: Facing Economics and Social Realities of Working People . 
Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1984. 



Br. David G. Andrews, Ministry in the Small Church. Kansas City: Sheed and Ward, 1988. 

Steve Burt, Activating Leadership in the Small Church: Clergy and Laity Working Together . 
Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1988. 

Carl Dudley and Douglas Alan Walrath, Developing Your Small Church's Potential . Valley 
Forge: Judson Press, 1988(7). 

Robert B. Coote, ed., Mustard Seed Churches: Ministries in Small Churches . Minneapolis: 
Fortress Press, 1990. 

Robert Gallagher, Power from on High . Place?: Ascension Press, 1982. 

Donald L. Griggs and Judy McKay Walther, Christian Education in the Small Church . Valley 
Forge: Judson Press, 1988(7). 

Anthony Pappas, Entering the World of the Small Church: A Guide for Leaders . Washington: 
Alban Institute, 1988. 

Anthony Pappas, Money. Motivation, and Mission in the Small Church . Valley Forge: Judson 
Press, 1989. 

David R. Ray, Small Churches are the Right Size . New York: Pilgrim Press, 1982. 

Laurence A. Wagley, Preaching with the Small Cong re gation . Nashville: Abingdon, 1989. 


Don S. Browning, A Fundamental Practical Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991. 

Wesley Carr, The Pastor as Theologian: The Integration of Pastoral Ministry. Theology and 
Discipleship. London: SPCK, 1989. 

Wesley Can, The Priestlike Task . London: SPCK, 1985. 

Duncan B. Forrester, ed., Theology and Practice. London: Epworth, 1990. 

John Foskett and David Lyall, Helping the Helpers: Supervision and Pastoral Care . London: 
SPCK, 1988. 

Stephen Pattison, A Critique of Pastoral Care. London: SCM, 1988. 

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